The Problem of Homelessness in the United States Term Paper

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Homelessness in America

Homelessness is one of the major issues in the United States given its significant social and economic impacts. As a result, homelessness has been the subject of epidemiological studies, public debates, and policy initiatives. These efforts have sought to examine different aspects relating to the problem of homelessness including its prevalence, causes or contributing factors, and potential solutions to address it. Over the past few decades, various policies and programs have been developed to help address the problem of homelessness. However, these policies and programs have failed to address the issue of homelessness in a conclusive manner. Despite the adoption of these policies and programs, the prevalence rate of homelessness is still high. Homelessness in America is a big problem and it is time to review homelessness, allocate more resources and funding to address the problem.

Background Information on Homelessness

Homelessness is defined as the lack of a stable, safe and permanent housing due to lack of income, poor housing policies, and neighborhood gentrification (Dreyer, 2018). Homelessness is an complex, interdisciplinary problem that seemingly requires a multidisciplinary approach to address. While it is regarded as the lack of a stable, safe and permanent housing, the interdisciplinary nature and complexity of homelessness contributes to the lack of a universal definition of the issue. According to Yousey & Samudra (2018), a comprehensive, broad-based definition that can be used consistently for homelessness initiatives does not exist. The lack of a broad-based definition of homelessness is also attributable to the fact that it impacts different population groups and have varying outcomes on these groups. Therefore, existing homelessness initiatives are seemingly based on the specific groups affected by the problem. Dreyer (2018) suggests that homelessness can be classified into family homelessness, homeless children, and youth homelessness. Yousey & Samudra suggests that homelessness occur in urban and rural settings though rural homelessness is an understudied phenomenon that is not usually incorporated in public perceptions regarding the issue.

Despite the lack of a broad-based definition, homelessness is an egregious problem that has existed in the United States since 1980s and attributable to various factors and causes (Dreyer, 2018). It has attracted the attention of clinicians, administrators, policy makers and researchers in the last few years. Recent studies have shown that homelessness has grown to become a complex public health and social problem. This social and public health problem is a complex phenomenon than simply the lack of a place to live. As a result, a paradigm shift regarding homelessness has occurred as it is no longer viewed as simply the absence of a place to live, but in terms of its social context. While a paradigm shift on homelessness has occurred as it continues to increase, epidemiology of the issue in the general population is increasingly difficult to study (Tsai, 2018). Current interventions for homelessness need to incorporate its social context and diverse nature in order to be effective. Given these factors, multifaceted and multisectoral approaches are the most suitable interventions to address the growing problem of homelessness in the United States.

Statistics on Homelessness

As previously indicated, homelessness in the United States has continued to be an egregious problem since the 1980s. The gravity of this problem is evident in its prevalence rates in different populations and settings throughout the country. The prevalence rates of homelessness have been the subject of numerous studies in recent years. Tsai (2018) conducted a study to examine the lifetime and 1-year prevalence of this issue based on findings of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions – III. Based on the findings of this study, the lifetime prevalence of homelessness in the United States population is approximately 4.2% (Tsai, 2018). On the other hand, the 1-year prevalence rate of homelessness in the U.S. population is estimated at 1.5% (Tsai, 2018). The 1-year prevalence rate of homelessness is attributable to various factors strongly associated with the issue. These factors include low income, past-year tobacco use disorder, borderline personality disorder, history of incarceration, and debt history. These factors also contribute to lifetime prevalence of homeless in addition to history of suicidal attempts and antisocial personality disorder. Therefore, the study concludes that lifetime homelessness has seemingly increased from 2.7% to 4.2% over the past decade.

Morton et al. (2017) conducted a study to examine the prevalence and correlates of homelessness in the youth. Based on this study, explicit youth homelessness is likely to occur in
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3% of households with 13- to-17 year olds (Morton et al., 2017). However, for young people aged between 18 to 25 years, household prevalence estimates for homelessness is 5.9% for explicitly reported homelessness. Additionally, incidence rates of youth homelessness are approximately 50% as high as prevalence rates (Morton et al., 2017). These prevalence rates for youth homelessness were found to be similar in both rural and non-rural counties. Therefore, these researchers suggest that there is a significant need for prevention and youth-centered systems and services because of the high prevalence and incidence rates. Moreover, homelessness initiatives should also address the disproportionate risks of some subpopulations.

Causes/Contributing Factors to Homelessness

Policy makers, clinicians, researchers and administrators have examined the causes or contributing factors to homelessness with a view of developing a suitable solution to address the problem. Recent studies have shown that homelessness is a complex, interdisciplinary problem that occurs in different contexts. Tsai, O’Toole & Kearney (2017) contend that an understanding of the social, behavioral and public health context with which homelessness occurs is required in the development of appropriate solutions for the problem. The causes and contributing factors to homelessness can be identified through examining these contexts and its impacts.

Mabhala, Yohannes & Griffith (2017) state that social conditions and maladaptive behaviors contribute to the problem of homelessness. Homelessness is essentially a social problem that is linked to social conditions and risk factors. Additionally, the problem is brought by some behavioral risk factors that affects one’s living conditions. A significant percentage of homeless people have experienced extreme social disadvantage such as poverty, dysfunctional family, shortage of social housing stocks, unstable family structures, and disrupted schooling. Lack of social and psychological support, neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse are social factors that also contribute to the problem of homelessness. Social factors and childhood experiences cluster together to influence behavior that leads to homelessness such as adult criminal activities and substance abuse. In essence, alcoholism, substance abuse, self-harm and disruptive behaviors, and criminal activities are maladaptive behaviors contributing to homelessness. According to Dreyer (2018), homelessness in the United States is also brought or exacerbated by income inequality, poor housing policies, and neighborhood gentrification.

Homelessness is also linked to racial stereotyping, which creates significant psychological distress that in turn contribute to homelessness (Weisz & Quinn, 2017; Morton et al., 2017).Weisz & Quinn (2017) argue that homelessness is an intensely stigmatized identity despite the negative impacts of stigmatization on health outcomes. Racial stereotyping is the premise for stigmatization, which in turn influences homelessness. Racial/ethnic minority groups have high numbers of homeless people due to racial stereotyping unlike other race/ethnic groups. Morton et al. (2017) found that black and Hispanic races are at higher risks of homelessness, especially youth homelessness in comparison to other racial/ethnic groups. This shows that there is a strong link between race and homeless resulting in the idea that racial stereotyping is a contributing factor to this issue.

Effects/Outcomes of Homelessness

Homelessness is a growing problem occurring within the social, behavioral and public health contexts. Since the issue is brought by various contributing factors within the social and behavioral contexts, it has significant impacts. One of the major effects or outcomes of homelessness is disruption of education and poor health outcomes. Homelessness significantly interrupt critical areas of life like education, psychosocial functioning, and health (Oppenheimer, Nurius & Green, 2018). Existing evidence shows health disparities among homeless people and the significant impact of homelessness on public health. Homelessness is linked to negative outcomes in various domains of health. Homeless people are at high risks of severe acute and chronic illness and death at earlier ages and of preventable conditions in comparison to low-income but housed people. The high risks of negative health outcomes among homeless people is attributable to unmet health needs. Additionally, existing research shows that homeless people are at high risks of behavioral health conditions and mental illnesses. Therefore, homelessness is a deadly stressor characterized with unique and enduring impacts on mental and physical health outcomes.

Homelessness causes major social and public health issues/problems (Tsai, O’Toole & Kearney, 2017). Homelessness contributes to poor physical and mental health outcomes by affecting health seeking behaviors of homeless people. Homeless people are less likely to seek for primary care services resulting in poor health status and outcomes. Disparities in healthcare utilization patterns between homeless people and other low-income groups exist. In this case, homeless people are less likely to utilize existing healthcare services in comparison…

Sources Used in Documents:


Dreyer, B.P. (2018), A Shelter is not a Home: The Crisis of Family Homelessness in the United States, Pediatrics, 142(5) 1-3, https://doi.org10.1542/peds.2018-2695

Ly, A. & Latimer, E., (2015), Housing First Impact on Cost and Associated Cost Offsets A review of literature, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(11) 475-487, doi: 10.1177/070674371506001103

Mabhala, M.A., Yohannes, A. & , Griffith, M. (2017), Social Conditions of Becoming Homelessness, Qualitative Analysis of Life Stories of Homelessness People, International Journal for Equity in Health, 16(150), Doi:10.1186/s12939-017-0646-3

Morton et al, (2017), Prevalence and Correlates of Youth Homelessness in the United States, Journal of Adolescent Health, 62, 14-21 Doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.10.006

Oppenheimer, S.C., Nurius, P.S. & Green, S. (2018) Homeless History Impact on Health Outcome and Economics and Risk Behaviors Intermediaries: New Insight from Population Data, Families in Society, 97(3), 230-242, Doi:10.1606/1044-3894.2016.97.21

Tsai, J., O’Toole, T. & Kearney, L. K. (2017), Homelessness as a Public Mental Health and Social Problem, New Knowledge and Solution, Psychological Services, 14(2), 113-117,

Tsai, J. (2018), Lifetime and 1-year Prevalence of Homelessness in the U.S. Population: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-111, Journal of Public Health 40(1), 65-78,

Yousey, A. & Samundra, R. (2018) Defining Homelessness in the Rural United States,

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