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This year in the United States, approximately 500,000 people will not have their own homes to sleep in. Given a nationwide shortage of almost 188,000 shelter beds, the only option for many of these people might be a bench or a parking garage, the awning outside of a restaurant, or a tent. Those who are homeless are more likely to get sick and suffer from untreated physical and mental health conditions. They are less likely to have access to medical care. They might face additional difficulties applying for welfare and getting a job, perpetuating cycles of poverty or exclusion that could keep them on the streets. Unhoused persons might be exposed to extreme weather, even in extraordinarily dangerous conditions, and are also more vulnerable to crime and assault (“State of Homelessness”, 2023).
Many consider this to be both a moral and economic failure, and the United States’ persistent inability to address homelessness represents an amalgam of several separate problems. Some of these issues, which you should consider as you prepare to create solutions, include partisanship and insufficient investment in affordable housing creation, a lack of accessible jobs and inadequate welfare provision, discrimination along racial and class lines, a deep-rooted societal belief that individuals should be able to make their own way, and stigma and a dearth of treatment options for substance use and mental health conditions.
The remainder of this briefing will establish many of the causes of our inability to provide housing for those within our borders and will elucidate some of the economic consequences of that deficiency. There will be — and should be — disagreement about what the best way to move forward is. It is essential to debate which solutions will work and which will not be up to the task and which facets of this topic are most important to the end goal of providing everyone with the housing, food, and quality of life that we owe to each other. As we engage in these important discussions, we should strive to remember that the reason homelessness matters is not intrinsically economic. There are people who have no choice but to live outside.
Homelessness sits at the intersection of economic exclusion, health and mental health conditions, and a lack of interest or assistance
from others, and it also creates more logistical problems that can be difficult to navigate.