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Homelessness in the United States has been a growing social concern. It has also become clear that measures to deal with the problem have not been significantly effective. Specifically vulnerable to this problem are women, often the sole care takers of young children. The problem then imprints itself not only on the unemployed, but also upon those who depend upon these individuals for their livelihood. Homelessness then becomes a vicious cycle, inherited by children from parents.
Because women are in a particularly difficult position when homeless, they should be the recipients of efforts focused specifically upon their needs. Employability for example is hampered by elements such as young children, lack of day care and lack of job skills (Zastrow 147). Only by addressing such issues with the aim to prevent homelessness, can the issue be addressed with a greater degree of success than has so far been the case.
The Scope and Nature of the Problem
Statistics gathered from shelters and surveys show that the problem of homelessness in the United States is vast and growing. In fact, according to Shinn and Tsemberis (53) the percentage of homeless over a 5-year period comprizes a little more than 3% of the nation. This means that over 600,000 families and more than 1,000,000 children in the United States currently find themselves without homes. These people rely on shelters, streets, cars and campgrounds for places to spend their nights (Nunez and Caruso). Furthermore requests for emergency shelter increased with 17% from 1999 to 2000, and again with 22% by the year 2001. Statistically the problem thus appears to have increased despite efforts to alleviate it. Mangano thus appears correct in his assessment that 20 years of response to the problem has provided no true solutions. The nature of the problem needs to be investigated thoroughly in order to provide more focus when solutions are suggested.
The nature of the problem then lies in the fundamental reasons for homelessness, as well as the specific members of the population involved. The problem, according to Shinn and Tsemberis (54), includes a number of elements that are often combined. Poverty, disability, demographic characteristics, and a childhood history of homelessness are some of the exacerbating factors. According to Nunez and Caruso, homelessness affecting families have been exacerbated by the instability of the economy combined with limited public systems available to help these families.
The problem is even worse for women, as mentioned above. Statistics show that less than 1% of persons receiving welfare are unemployed males who have no disability or specific problems keeping them from work (Zastrow 147). The greatest problem faces mothers with families where another adult supervisor for their children is absent. Barriers to employment include very young children, a lack of affordable daycare facilities, and a lack of job skills. Where these barriers are not a factor, relevant work is simply not available, and the result is homelessness not only for the woman in question, but also for her children.
Ehrenreich and Piven address the specific issues facing women relying on inadequate welfare resources, and the effect of this on their children. The job market, as mentioned, is problematic. Even promising prospects such as computer training often result in nothing better than a position at McDonald's. Furthermore there is the stigma attached to receiving welfare and being homeless. These factors make it very difficult for women to escape their situation.
It is thus clear that the issue of homelessness for women encompasses much more than merely being without a home (Nunez and Caruso). The level of desperation is often so high that the mother goes without food to provide for her children. Factors relating to homelessness for women specifically include poor education, inadequate child care, domestic violence and health care issues. These issues thus focus directly on these women as care takers of their offspring. The children are thus victims not only of their domestic circumstances, but also of a lack of sufficient social systems to care for them.
There needs to be more social awareness of the plight of homeless women. Many families for example have as their head a young mother who has never been married, dropping out of school for example due to pregnancy. The family in which such a woman grew up is often also without adequate living resources and is unable to take care of the family in question. These circumstances make it difficult to provide the children involved with adequate education and health resources. Both mother and children thus need to be empowered to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Obviously, the current welfare system is inadequate to accomplish this. As seen above, statistics indicate that the problem increases every year.
Another problem relating directly to homelessness is the rising cost of housing. No provision is made for single-parent families or low-income families. According to Nunez and Caruso, 6,000,000 families involving more than 4,000,000 children collectively earn less than 50% of the local median income. This means that they pay more than half of their income in rent and/or live in severely substandard housing conditions, and they are furthermore at great risk of homelessness. Furthermore there is the problem of inflation, which is not compatible with the salary paid to low-wage workers. Jobs in this category also offer few or no benefits to the people who in fact need these most. Often such extreme poverty results in other social problems such as abuse, which then culminates in homelessness for the most vulnerable members of the household: women and children. Making the situation worse still is the fact that there is no alternative for these families.
Welfare services have been increasingly inadequate to deal either with homelessness itself or with the issues surrounding the problem. In fact, it appears that reductions in welfare have exacerbated the problem rather than solving it. Nunez and Caruso for example cite reductions or cuts in welfare benefits for 37% of families in a survey of 22 cities. In Philadelphia and Seattle alone this figure increases to 50%, resulting in homelessness for 42% of the involved families in Philadelphia and 38% in Seattle. Further results is that families disintegrate either through abuse problems or through foster care, where children are placed in foster homes because their families can no longer feed them. The problem of welfare should then be directly addressed, especially as it relates to poverty and homelessness issues.
According to Ehrenreich and Piven, the fundamental problem relating to welfare services is rooted in the reform of welfare in 1996. The problem is that this was a particularly prosperous time for the United States. Another problem is that the homelessness issue as it relates to welfare services had not been properly researched. Thus a number of misconceptions arose resulting in an inadequate system to handle an ever-growing problem. Two of these misconceptions are that a job is sufficient to alleviate poverty in a family, and that the job market would always be sufficient for the workforce. The reality has however proved to fall short of the ideal inherent in the above assumptions. Low-wage jobs for example hardly provide enough money to even feed a family, much less to provide sufficient housing. In terms of jobs, the political upheaval and other social problems in the United States have had an adverse effect on the economy and thus on the job market. In 2001 for example, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (Ehrenreich and Piven), the employment rate for single mothers decreased far more sharply in comparison with the overall employment rate for the labor force of the country. Measures instituted to alleviate the problem, such as unemployment insurance, are often not designed to include the requirements of those in greatest need. This benefit is for example one of those not offered as part of temporary or minimum wage compensation. It is thus clear that the problem needs to be recognized, and that steps should be taken to alleviate it.
Recognizing and Alleviating the Problem
Currently it appears that governmental institutions have recognized the fundamental flaws related to the welfare and homelessness issue. Conferences and strategies are being implemented to help alleviate the problems faced by the homeless in general, and by homeless women in particular. While this provides some hope for the future of these people, it should also be recognized that ongoing strategies as well as research are needed to truly address the fundamental issues involved. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, held on 23 January of this year (Mangano) shows considerable promise in this regard.
According to the outcome of the conference, it appears that the nation's leaders have begun to recognize that current systems are inadequate to deal with the problem. Homelessness is not an issue that can be solved with response. Instead the focus needs to be on the root of the problem; an approach focusing on the disease itself rather than merely the symptoms. There also appears to be recognition that the process will take years to…[continue]
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