Adequate shelter is a basic right for every individual providing him protection from the elements, availability of potable water, and provision for the removal of wastes and drainage, accessibility to emergency life-saving services and health care. Homelessness is thereby a condition that is an exact opposite in a society where there is a lack of fixed housing for individuals and families. Glasser (1999: 132) provided that a person whose nighttime residence is in a transitional housing, in a supervised public or private facility such as welfare hotels, congregate shelters and housing for the mentally ill is also labeled as homeless.
The US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, 2005) has also provided the definition that the homeless person is an individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. For some, the lack of a proper roof over their head has enabled them to sleep an available outdoor space, vehicles or in tents. Some can even be found in parks, bus or train stations, airports, abandoned buildings, and boats apart from the temporary shelters provided by the government of other Non-government agencies committed to help them. Other individuals also prefer to live a nomadic life or semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Yet for some homeless individuals they push their luck by living with friends and family members to enjoy a respectable lifestyle. To combat this problem, the US government (2005) has provided transitional housing to provide the homeless a temporary shelter and sleeping accommodations. Health care has also been provided for the homeless who are prone to medically-related illnesses. Most common health problems observed includes skin disease, dental and personal hygiene problems that O’Connell (2004) and other medical professions have addressed. Most likely the disease process is exacerbated by poor nutrition and exposure to inclement weather.
Treatment is thereby a priority because if left untreated, a disease outbreak will likely occur. In the end, the problem would bloat to huge proportions as the disease spreads to other sectors of the community. Health for the homeless is thereby vital to everyone. Countless studies have delved in the major reasons for homelessness. Many reports have agreed that poverty is the common cause for homelessness throughout the world according to Glasser (1999). In developed nations, Glasser added that the lack of affordable housing and low paying jobs are the major causes for the condition.
This is often considered as a by-product of uneven wealth and income distribution commonly felt across developed and developing nations that O’Connell sought to expand in his study. His explanations provided that when income inequality cause distortions in the real estate market, this phenomenon tends to push for higher rentals that at the same time decrease the availability of affordable housing. Naturally, individuals and families under the low income bracket cannot sustain the increasing rental despite their jobs and are constrained to seek shelter with the government-funded homes according to Glasser.
For others, the incapability of maintaining employment is a problem that could be brought about severe drug and alcohol dependence according to Booth, Koegel, et al. For some, substance dependency and mental illness brings in behavioral patterns that can alienate a person from his family and friends who could have provided a safety net against homelessness during difficult times as added in Booth, Koegel, et al. Still, the lack of adequate services that could cater to the needs of individuals predisposed to substance dependency and mental illness has contributed to homelessness.
In a study by Booth, Koegel, et al (2002), substance abuse is quite common is homeless populations. Other individuals also prefer temporary residences brought about by personal and religious convictions. For some, a nomadic lifestyle brings them closer to nature. Yet this number is quite negligible compared to the number of homeless individuals suffering from mental illness and trauma who have adapted this lifestyle for their lack of desire for any social acceptance. The US in 2005, has released an approximate estimate that one-third of all adult homeless persons are suffering from some form of mental disturbance.
In previous years, they are institutionalized in state mental hospitals but the deinstitutionalization between 1957 and 1988 due to lack of service systems has increased the presence of homeless mentally ill individuals according to Booth, Koegel, et al. Another common factor that contributes to homelessness in developed and developing countries includes domestic violence. As individuals flee from abuse, they often find themselves without a home. The US studies have also released in a study that half of homeless individuals were women and children fleeing from domestic abuse.
When prison inmates are discharged, they are also socially isolated from family and friends according to Glasser. Often the formerly incarcerated have few resources owing to the time spent in jail ad the social stigma attached to their condition. Often Glasser explained that employment is difficult for individuals with a criminal record that place them at a higher risk for mental illness and substance abuse once they are discharged from prison sentences. Civilian victims of war or in any armed conflict are also at high risk of homelessness according to Glasser.
The military attacks in their area may have destroyed their homes and rebuilding hem would take some time due to the cost of repair. Commonly when the state or the country has been subjected to wars, when the incumbent government is defeated, the displaced citizens are allowed to fend for themselves without receiving any assistance from their government. Most civilians as stressed in Glasser’s work, who flee from war-torn states become refugees in other countries and depend on outside forces for food and shelter a.
In developing and undeveloped countries, a steady growth of homeless individuals has been observed in the recent years according to Glasser. In Third world nations alone, homelessness is rampant with children and older adults living in the streets despite their growing economic prosperity according to the US Conference of Mayors (2001). Often this is cause by migration of workers to big cities who have trouble finding homes. This may also be due to the rising income inequality where low-paying jobs are a common cause coupled by rising poverty according to Glasser.
She also added that while some have paying jobs to sustain their living conditions, some homeless people prefer living in the sidewalks and performing tricks as a form of entertainment in exchange for donations. As a common factor, homelessness is caused by the economic stress in a society caused by unavailability of affordable housing for the destitute. When real estate prices soar, the neighborhood is inclined to move the homeless individuals to other areas thereby causing a displacement of the original residents. The common vulnerable demographic across the population includes the elderly and the mentally ill.
Common places that used to cater to homeless individuals like churches and public libraries became strict with their rules in the allowance of homeless persons in their building as they homeless population grew larger. Some churches have known to close their doors after every service to limit homeless entrants. Public libraries have also implemented dress codes and employed security personnel to guard their entrance and exits. Public toilets were also shut which increased the incidence of homeless persons roaming in the streets, in parks, under the bridges and sidewalks.
Some also live in railroad tunnels and become socially invisible which is the intention of enforcing bodies against the homeless victims. Some homeless night shelters enforce on the homeless people to leave the vicinity in the morning and return in the evening as the shelters open up for the night. Other shelters are open in the morning hours for enrolled homeless individuals and offer counseling and meals for the day and require them to return to their nighttime shelter in the evenings.
The availability and knowledge of the pre-disposing factors relative to homelessness should be a cause for concern for everyone. Families should be vigilant towards their members and are enjoined to take care of them rather than leave them in the streets to fend for their food and shelter in their time of need. Likewise, this knowledge should be gainfully used by state authorities to combat this problem at its roots to minimize a bigger problem potential in the coming years.
Glasser, Irene. Braving the Street: The Anthropology of Homelessness. New York. Berghahn Books, 1999. O’Connell, James.The Health Care of Homeless Persons: a Manual of Communicable Diseases & Common Problems in Shelters & On the Streets, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, 2004. Booth, Koegel, et al. Vulnerability Factors for Homelessness Associated with Substance Dependence in a Community Sample of Homeless Adults, 2002. United States. National Coalition for the Homeless and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Domestic Violence and Homelessness. June, 2005. United States. United States Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities: a 27-city survey. December 2001.