The Big Picture
The basic reason for homelessness in the United states is a scarcity of affordable housing. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that on a single night in January, 2015 in the United States, 564,708 people experience homelessness. Of that number, 206,286 are people in families, making families 36% of all homeless people. Frequently, low-income families may become homeless due to an unexpected financial crisis: a medical emergency or a job layoff that prevents the family from maintaining safe housing.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) states that there are two main factors that contribute to homelessness in Georgia: extreme poverty and personal vulnerability. People experiencing extreme poverty can become homeless because of very low incomes, unemployment, or the lack of available affordable housing. Many low-income individuals and families have personal vulnerabilities that place them at significant risk of becoming homeless. These factors include mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disabilities or brain injury, physical disabilities or chronic medical problems, family violence, prior evictions or poor credit, or a criminal background.
The Georgia DCA also explains that past experiences and behaviors can also create significant barriers for individuals and families who are trying to escape homelessness. Being homeless can lead to arrests for behaviors such as trespassing and loitering. Criminal offenses such as these, and certainly more serious convictions, can make it difficult to pass a required background check when trying to rent permanent housing. Additionally, certain felony convictions make it difficult to obtain a bed in an emergency shelter. Likewise, prior evictions and poor credit can make it difficult to rent decent affordable housing.
In addition to these challenges, in Athens-Clarke County there is a shortage of affordable and safe housing and job opportunities that provide a living wage.
Homeless service providers in Athens work collaboratively toward a compassionate and effective response to individual and family homelessness in the community. These strategies include homeless prevention, emergency shelter, transitional housing, supportive services, and permanent supportive housing.
Reasons for homelessness are varied, and are specific to situations. However, some of the top generalizable reasons for family homelessness are:
Lack of affordable healthcare:
Overwhelming medical costs are one of the most common reasons for bankruptcy and poverty, and serious health problems or disabilities can also lead to homelessness.
Loss of job opportunities:
Changes in the American workforce and a general economic recession have resulted in the loss of employment opportunities, especially among low-wage workers. As a result, more individuals and families are living in poverty and at risk of losing their housing.
Lack of public assistance programs:
A decline in funding for cash assistance programs has resulted in an increase in homelessness and poverty, especially among individuals with disabilities and families headed by females.
Lack of affordable housing:
Federal support for low-income housing has decreased in recent years, a trend that is particularly hard on renters. Meanwhile, rental costs continue to rise, placing low-income individuals and families in the difficult position of trying to pay higher housing costs on lower wages.
But changes in the economy are not the only reasons that people lose their homes. NCH also lists addiction and mental illness as two of the primary personal factors that lead to financial instability and the loss of permanent housing. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reports that approximately 26 percent of homeless Americans had some form of mental illness, and nearly 35 percent were affected by substance abuse. Mental illness and substance abuse lead to a destructive cycle in which the effects of both conditions lead to increased poverty, which in turn can reinforce the depression, anxiety, and delusional thinking that reinforce drug and alcohol use.” Retrieved from: http://www.endhomelessness.org/.