America’s plummeting economy has greatly impacted homelessness in America and disproportionately impacted the African-American community.
Today, The National Alliance to End Homelessness released its annual report, “The State of Homelessness in America,” which revealed that overall homeless decreased by one percent over the past two years. The number of homeless people “went from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011,” according to the report.Unfortunately, other factors suggest that homelessness may affect a greater percentage of Americans in the future.
“Basically the report says that homelessness was flat, and that the number of homeless people didn’t grow between 2009 and 2011,” Nan Roman, the president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told theGrio.
Roman explained that the report illustrates the levels of homelessness at state and national levels, and issues connected to homelessness including severe housing cost burdens, residents doubling up, unemployment leading to homelessness, and rates of foreclosure. Despite an increase in these factors, homelessness has remained steady.
“We think the reason that it didn’t grow was due to the $1.5 billion that the government funded into homelessness prevention programs and housing programs to keep homelessness from growing,” Roman said. “These methods seem to have helped, and it is a very positive story.”
Yet, investigators also found that doubled-up households (people living with other families) increased by 13 percent between 2009 and 2011. In addition, the number of severely housing cost burdened families (defined as families below the poverty line paying 50 percent or more of their monthly income on housing) went up by 22 percent in the same time period.
To many, including Roman, these and other factors analyzed in the report indicated a growing risk of homelessness for low-income families.
“We looked at economic indicators that cause homelessness, and those are getting worse,” she elaborated. “Since the stimulus money is running out, there are reductions that may lead to decreases in the homeless prevention system. We have a lot of concerns about the future and the aftermath.”
One significant part of the study revealed that there was no room in shelters for 40 percent of the homeless at certain points in January 2011. Roman, who started working on housing and urban issues in the 1970s, said America once had more affordable housing units than people who needed them. In the 1980s that changed. Now even the number of shelters needed to house the homeless needs to increase.
That’s not the only problem with the shelter system.
“Most shelters are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., so families have to rush form work to get in line to get a bed,” Roman said. “It’s pretty hard to keep a job while you and your family are homeless. Some shelters are more likely to help families with kids, so it is a little better, but even with a family it is not so good.”
Roman also says African-Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population. “African-Americans are disproportionately poor and closely associated with deep poverty due to discrimination issues and the lack of higher education needed for steady employment,” she said.
“I think America is a great country and we do a lot for people and people have a lot of opportunities,” Roman continued. “But having said that, I think we have become sort of numb to homelessness.”
But being numb to homelessness has social costs that are greater than people realize. “Letting a lot of people become homeless it is not smart move,” Roman said of the fact that the stimulus monies that have kept homelessness at a steady rate are running out. “It is costly in terms of causing an increase in health care costs, causing poor performance in schools, and making it hard to reduce unemployment.”
Roman believes that our struggling economy has led too many people to focus on employment, when it is actually a combination of unemployment and high housing costs that are feeding a potential homeless epidemic.
“There are not enough affordable rentals for people how need it,” she told theGrio.
Yet, Roman does see a solution. “I think that investment in prevention, particularly in rehousing, which is relatively inexpensive, needs to be a regular practice,” Roman said. “But, ultimately this is about unemployment and housing costs.”