As a naïve girl growing up in Wyoming, I hadn’t been around many people experiencing homelessness. From time to time, we would see transient or homeless people in our community. Whenever possible, my mom would stop to help—perhaps buying them a meal, some essentials, or providing transportation to their next destination.
When I was 13, my parents took us on a family vacation to California. Overall, it was a great vacation. I remember being at the beach for the first time and experiencing Magic Mountain, but my most vivid memory is of an unplanned experience in downtown San Francisco.
There were dozens of homeless people on every block and street corner. They warmed every park bench and pitched their tents on the grass. I had never seen anything like the droves of homeless people there. I was shocked, and my heart grew heavy.
We passed a young woman, maybe in her early 20s, sitting up against a building. Her dirty blonde hair matted, and her hands worn and dirty. Next to her on the sidewalk was her dog. My heart shattered for them both. I had no idea why she and countless others were on the streets, but I knew it wasn’t right.
We arrived at a restaurant for lunch, and I excused myself to the restroom and cried. I ordered my lunch but didn’t touch it. Instead, I had it put in a to-go box, and when we left, I gave it to that young woman and her dog. I often wonder what happened to her and what her story was.
What Causes Homelessness?
While I don’t know her specific story, I know countless reasons and many stories behind our country’s homelessness epidemic. Homelessness is the result of many factors, several of them overlapping and nuanced. Many begin with a catastrophic event such as losing a job or loved one or an inability to work. Here are some of the most common reasons for homelessness.
Lack of Affordable Housing, Low Wages, and Poverty
The lack of affordable housing options is a big problem for many Floridians and others throughout the nation. Paying rent or a mortgage on top of utilities and other bills can be an insurmountable task for many. Even people who are employed may not be able to afford all of their basic needs because their wages are so low. Some individuals and families must choose between paying for a roof over their heads or food.
Layoffs, workplace discrimination, problems with transportation, and other hurdles can make finding a steady job nearly impossible. Even people employed at a good job for years can find themselves in dire straights with little to no warning. Unemployment has always been a significant factor in homelessness and remains so today. Sometimes illnesses and disabilities keep people from being or staying gainfully employed, especially if they don’t get the medical care they need.
Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and the Lack of Needed Services
Schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses plague approximately one quarter of America’s homeless population. According to one survey, 68 percent of cities reported that substance abuse was the most significant cause of homelessness for single adults. It was also reported as one of the top three causes of family homelessness in 12 percent of cities. Whether dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, or both, people need support service to overcome these obstacles and get back on their feet. The lack of necessary services only perpetuates homelessness.
For some people, home isn’t a safe place to be. More than 90 percent of women report that physical or sexual abuse in the home has forced them to live on the streets.
Natural disasters, pandemics, toxic relationships, divorce, and other circumstances out of someone’s control can be all it takes for them to be without the security of a roof over their head. Couple this with the lack of necessary support services—whether it be insurance coverage, counseling, temporary aid, or something else and homelessness only increases.
Lack of Trustworthy Relationships
Being close to family members, having a friend or a mentor, someone that we can go to when times get tough, or when we simply need a little direction or encouragement to put us back on track is essential for everyone. Without people to trust and count on, individuals at risk for homelessness have few options. Developing healthy, trustworthy relationships can mean having someone to temporarily stay with while getting back on your feet instead of being left with nowhere to go.
These are the reasons why SRF chooses to help those experiencing homelessness. Whenever possible we try to provide a safe space for individuals to go. Other times we provide care packages to make their day a little easier with Project Basic Necessity.
If you or someone you know is currently homeless you can always reach out to us for help.