Homelessness is a major social problem in many communities and societies today. Millions of children, women, elderly people and persons with disabilities spent most of their nights in the cold every day in various parts of the world. In the United States of America, it is estimated that nearly seven hundred and forty thousand people are homeless. On the other hand, Varney and Vliet believe that nearly one million six hundred individuals are homeless in the United States of America toady (717). According to Criswell, homelessness refers to a situation in which an individual is not able to acquire, own and maintain a regular dwelling place (14). A definition given by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD) establishes that homeless people are those individuals who do not have permanent or fixed residences (LaMarche 17). In January 2006, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) estimated that there are more than one hundred and fifteen million people worldwide who are homeless (359).
Homelessness affects people differently depending on their gender, economic status, age and social status amongst other factors. For instance, a research study by Watson and Austerberry revealed that in average, eighty two percent of homeless people in most western countries are women (81). Similarly, women and destitute children are the most affected people in most African countries.
Causes of Homelessness
Homelessness is caused by a variety of factors such as high rate of rural to urban migrations due to uneven development of cities, high levels of poverty and increased unemployment. Women and children may also become homeless after fleeing away from their matrimonial and parental home due to domestic violence. According to Ataah, high rate of growth and development of major towns and cities usually leads to increased migration of people from rural and semi-urban areas to these cities because people often seek employment opportunities and better living standards within the cities (164). This leads to high population which cannot be adequately housed within the cities. In the United States, rural to urban migrations accounts for seventy two percent of homelessness whereas poverty accounts for fifty three percent (Momeni, Gerald & Barrett 219). In addition, unemployment accounts for forty five percent of homelessness.
Homelessness is also caused by occurrence of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes that displace people from their homes. The government may also forcefully evict people from their homes in order to pave way for regional developments such as railway and road expansion projects.
Solutions to Homelessness
In my view, the only way to solve homelessness effectively is to first identify the causes of homelessness amongst the people and then formulate appropriate solutions to solve this social problem. For example, homeless caused by rural to urban migration can be solved by ensuring equitable regional development and equal distribution of economic resources within the country. This would help in ensuring that people living in less developed areas such as rural areas and villages also have access to basic amenities such as health care facilities and educational facilities as well as economic resources that would enable them live better lives. Homelessness in urban centers can also be reduced by increasing the number of housing facilities within such areas. A variety of housing projects within the urban centers should also be implemented and completed successfully in order to provide safe, secure and inexpensive housing to the high populations in these areas.
Similarly, homelessness caused by high poverty levels and increased unemployment can be solved by formulating policies that aim at reducing poverty levels and creation more employment opportunities, for example, the state and federal governments can give women and the youth incentives to induce them to start personal businesses, hence become self-employed. On the other hand, homelessness caused by domestic violence can be reduced by ensuring that the rights of women and children are not violated by their husbands and parents respectively. Various awareness campaigns may also be conducted to educate the people about the negative effects of domestic violence.
Although homelessness caused by occurrence of natural disasters such as earthquakes may not have prior prevention strategies, the aftermaths of such occurrences can be reduced by adequate preparedness and appropriate disaster management strategies. For example, the government may set aside specific funds to finance resettlement of people displaced by floods.
Homelessness can also be solved through intervention of humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations Housing Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and the Habitat for Humanity International. In my opinion, these organizations can assist in eradicating housing problems or challenges by encouraging and supporting homeless people to build their own homes. In addition, the state and federal governments should formulate and implement policies that encourage people to build their own homes, for example, by reducing complexity and bureaucracies in building codes.
Last but not least, the state and federal governments should avoid forceful eviction of persons living in low-income neighborhoods unless appropriate resettlement schemes have been developed for the evictees. In my view, the government should develop proper housing facilities for poor people living in slums or sub-standard neighborhoods. Instead of evicting people from their settlements, the state and federal governments should make every effort to build affordable housing facilities for the low-income earners and unemployed people, the elderly as well as the physically disabled people. In my opinion, destitute children, people with physical disabilities and women should be given first priority when allocating housing facilities to citizens because they are the most affected members of the society who suffer from homelessness.
To wind up, I would assert that homeless people should not be discriminated or abandoned in the society. All members of the society, religious groups, non-governmental organizations and the governments have roles to play to ensure that all homeless people have a roof on their heads. A shelter is a basic human need that no individual can live or survive without.
Although many people argue that the factors that lead to homelessness are general, I would assert that the causes of homelessness may be specific to a particular individual or groups of persons, thus it is important to formulate and implement suitable solutions to homelessness that are unique and exclusive to the target population or victims. Lastly, homelessness poses greater health risks to the lives of the people, thus must be solved as fast as possible. For example, homeless children are more likely to contract diseases than children with permanent homes.