What causes the risk of homelessness?
Our clients have faced many obstacles, including homelessness, domestic violence, abuse, trauma and poverty. After they have received emergency assistance (from shelters and crisis services), UWW helps take them to the next level and end the cycle of poverty permanently. Services exist to help them manage the crisis. However, without an investment in their skills, confidence, career planning, and professional network, many remain in precarious situations. UWW fills this gap.
UWW provides a unique, in-depth career development support and training program to build on their existing skills and achievements to help them to regain their career foothold and prosper. We offer women at-risk of homelessness an opportunity to find economically viable work and build aspiring careers. Our clients become fully independent and active members of their communities.
Some facts about homelessness:
What is homelessness?
To quote the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH): “Someone who lives on the street, or in an abandoned building, or in any place not meant for human habitation—or someone who has no regular place to live—is often called homeless.”
“In the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, the federal government defines as “homeless” someone who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence or an individual whose primary residence is one of the following:
– a temporary place for people about to be institutionalized;
– any place not meant for regular sleeping accommodation by humans; or
– a supervised temporary shelter.”*
But this only scratches the surface as this doesn’t take into account “Hidden Homelessness”, such as couch surfing. The Wellesley Institute’s report on precarious housing in Canada points out that the Canadian federal government estimates that, while there could be as many as 300,000 Canadians who are visibly homeless in a given year, it estimates that another 700,000 are among the “hidden homeless”. Others put the latter number at approximately 900,000.
How many are homeless?
Every night in America, about 750,000 people experience homelessness. Over the course of a year, 2.5 to 3.5 million people experience homelessness for a period of time (days to months). Each year, 600,000 families and 1.35 million children are homeless, making up half of the homeless population.*
Causes of homelessness
The following have been found to be the principal reasons that people have become homeless.**
– Domestic violence
– Low-paying jobs
– Lack of affordable housing
– Mental illness and the lack of needed services
– Substance abuse and the lack of needed services
– Prisoner re-entry
Homelessness is often the result of multiple circumstances. Consider these scenarios:
– A person can have a low paying job that causes housing to be unaffordable
– A woman could flee a violent household and lack the financial means to find proper housing
– Severe depression could paralyze an individual from being able to work. Without proper resources, that individual could lose their job, and the resulting poverty could cause them to lose their housing
Who is homeless?
Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of homeless people who are substance users (drugs and/or alcohol) is estimated at 26%, and approximately 16% of the homeless suffer from mental illness. The majority of homeless people are simply ordinary singles or families who have fallen on difficult times. Over the course of a year, families with children make up about half of the homeless population.
Violence and victimization among homeless women
According to New York’s Voices of Women, approximately 21% of homeless families and 25% single homeless women are homeless due to domestic violence.*** One national American survey found that domestic violence was the second most frequently stated reason for homelessness for families.*
The NAEH reports that “In addition to domestic violence causing homelessness, many homeless women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their past, even if they do not identify it as the immediate cause of their homelessness. One study in Massachusetts found that 92 percent of homeless women had experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their life, 63 percent had been victims of violence by an intimate partner, and 32 percent had been assaulted by their current or most recent partner.*
Poverty as a cause of homelessness
Unemployment and/or low paying jobs are the principal causes of poverty today. 5.4 million American families pay more than half of their incomes for rent. This results in the inability to pay for basic living expenses.* An estimated 13% of the homeless in major American cities are employed.**
According the the NAEH, “There are many people who work every day of the week who do not make enough money to pay for rent and bills, let alone food, healthcare, work clothes, school supplies and other necessities. In Washington, DC, a minimum wage worker would have to work 92 hours each week to afford a 1-bedroom apartnment at 30% of his/her income…A full time worker would need to earn $14 an hour in order to afford that apartment.”*
Increased incidence of illness among the homeless
With the higher exposure to the elements, higher stress, hunger, and a reduced accessibility to proper healthcare, among other things, the homeless naturally experience an increased incidence of illness.
In a study conducted in Toronto, Canada, 11.4% of the sample homeless population “reported traffic-related injuries (as pedestrians), which is significantly higher than the 2% reported by the general Toronto population…8.5% of our sample had experienced frostbite in the past year.” In this study, almost half of the women interviewed had been assaulted in the past year, and 43.3% of the women reported having experienced sexual harassment or assault in the past year.
43% of the sample population in this study reported fatigue in the past 30 days, compared to only 16% of the general Toronto population surveyed. “One half of the sample reported having less than 6 hours of sleep on 4 or more nights of the past 7 nights, often related to their living circumstances.” Without having a safe and regular place to sleep, adequate rest is not possible for most.****
Psychological effects of homelessness
According to the Street Health report, the homeless had a high incidence of “experiencing the psychological effects, sometimes severe, of coping with extreme adversity on a daily basis. Almost one third of the sample reported that lack of self respect, feelings of worthlessness and lack of control over one’s life comprised ‘the hardest part of trying to stay healthy when you are homeless.’ Greater than one in four people (26.8%) had considered suicide in the past year. 7.8% had actually attempted suicide in the same period. Only one half of our sample reported knowing anyone who could help them if they were to have an emotional crisis which they were unable to handle on their own.”****
* www.naeh.org (National Alliance to End Homelessness)