Last week, we started looking into the question of who the homeless really are. In our recent post entitled “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”, we touched upon the idea that when we see someone holding up a sign on the side of the road asking for help, it’s easy to turn our heads and say that we’ve got things to do and places to be. If they were really working, they wouldn’t be homeless. If you’ve thought some of those same things yourself, check out that post to have some of those questions answered and then meet us back here to dig a little deeper into who is really homeless.
When you really get to know someone, when you set out with no judgements, but to understand where they are and how they got there and what you can do to help, you begin to see how nuanced the issue of “homelessness” really is. There’s no easy answer, and there are many causes. For women, they may be escaping an abusive home situation and be unable to support their family. For men, they may have stumbled upon hard times and have nowhere to turn rather than the streets. For children, oh for the children. The innocents in all of this. Never to blame, but always the first to suffer. The children need us to care about them so badly.
We talked last week about the men, women, and children who find themselves in poverty and homelessness. But what about the sub-categories beyond gender and age? What about people of color, mentally ill, physically disabled, and even veterans? What’s going on with these groups? How might they find themselves on the street?
People of color. By now, many of us who had the erroneous notion that “racism isn’t a problem” in America have (hopefully) come to realize how wrong we were. In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin wouldn’t affect their livelihood or ability to retain a home, but we don’t live in a perfect world. And it’s important to understand that there are many barriers to entry for people of color that frankly just don’t exist for white middle class people.
In the last several years, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, and Toyota have been among *some* of the major (and minor) banks and companies to be caught discriminating against black and latinx customers. This is an excerpt from an article in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Blacks and Hispanics Have Such Expensive Mortgages.”
The homeownership rates of black and Hispanic Americans lag dramatically behind that of white Americans. These minority groups are much less likely to purchase a home, and if they do, they are less likely to have homes that appreciate in value. They’re also more likely to lose their homes through foreclosure. These gaps help explain, in part, the staggering disparity in wealth between whites and people of color.
Make sure to follow the link and read the whole article to get more insight into this issue. But housing and car loans aren’t the only way in which people of color in this country are disenfranchised. Data shows that children of color are more likely to get expelled from school (even preschool) at a much higher rate than their white peers. This feeds into the school to prison pipeline, and young adults of color find themselves incarcerated at a disproportionate rate compared to white people who commit the same crimes at the same rates (or higher rates, in some cases). Finding housing and a job with a livable wage becomes even more difficult with a criminal record.
Veterans. Here are some statistics from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard regarding homeless veterans during a point-in-time count in January 2017. There were 137 veterans in Charlotte experiencing homelessness at that time. 12% of all the homeless adults were veterans. About 70% of the veterans were African American. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the majority of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or some combination of these. So why are these veterans ending up with no housing? Check out this excerpt from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:
In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.
Our veterans, and frequently veterans of color, are risking it all to protect our freedoms and returning home to a country that isn’t prepared for them. If we’re truly patriotic, we have to care just as much about their well-being when they return from serving as we do when they set off in the first place.
Mentally Ill and People with Disabilities. These two categories are not one and the same, but they have similar effects when it comes to their propensity for homelessness. Both mentally ill and physically disabled people will be less likely to be able to hold down a job, so earning a living will be much more difficult for them. Caretakers cost money, medical bills are extremely expensive, transportation requires special consideration; many things that come easily to an able-bodied person become a chore for a person with disabilities or mental illness.
Harvard Health estimated in 2014 that “about a quarter to a third of the homeless population have a serious mental illness (usually schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.) A quarter to a third! That’s a significant percentage of people who are being severely underserved by society.
Many people work hourly wages at physically demanding jobs. A disabling physical injury for a day laborer, for example, could cause lost wages and the inability to pay for health care. As well as having a hard time keeping a job, people with these diseases may have delusions which make them more likely to separate themselves from friends and family. A medical doctor working at a street clinic in Colorado adds this:
“All factors are in place for the middle-aged working poor to be ensnared in a downward spiral leading to homelessness. Injuries frequently result in job loss. Next to go is living space, when folks can’t pay the rent. After that, many become clinically depressed or dependent on alcohol or drugs. That situation deteriorates into further joblessness and chronic homelessness,” he explains.
Those who suffer from physical disability or mental illness may also lack the mental capacity to be resilient. More on that here, but for now, we have to understand that not only is mental illness in itself a much higher risk factor for homelessness, it’s also compounded with many of these other sub-groups. For instance, many veterans suffer from PTSD. The intersection of these groups are where we have to meet people and solve problems so that we can all move on to a bigger and better world.
I’ve quoted a lot in this series, and it’s because there is great work being done by great people and their words deserve to be heard as they speak up for the homeless. Please follow the links and check out the original articles because there’s a lot more to be said for why people are homeless. These things I’ve talked about here are not all possible reasons for homelessness. We’ll take closer looks at many of these issues in the future, but this is a snapshot of some of the data that exists around homelessness in America.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: people are people. People who live in million-dollar mcmansions and people who have no roof over their heads or a safe place to store their belongings are entitled to the same rights, in life and according to our constitution. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know about you, but to me, happiness looks like a safe place to lay my head at night and security for my children. It looks like reaching out a helping hand to my sisters and brothers who need a lift in life.
If you want to lend a hand, but aren’t sure where to dive in, and find a good place and time to get involved. We can’t wait to talk more with you about the impact you could have on our city for the greater good.
Why Blacks and Hispanics Have Such Expensive Mortgages, The Atlantic
JPMorgan pays $55M to settle mortgage discrimination lawsuit, USA Today
Bank of America pays $335m damages for charging minorities higher interest rates, The Daily Mail
How Toyota May Have Started Overcharging Minority Customers, The Atlantic
The Hidden Racism of School Discipline, in 7 Charts, Vox.com
Our Issue, True Colors Fund
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard
The Homeless Mentally Ill, Harvard Health
Mental Health, The Homeless Hub
Dealing with Disability: Physical Impairments and Homelessness, Healing Hands