There is no single cause of homelessness. The term “the homeless” is merely an umbrella term that covers many different problems and cracks in society’s safety net; in fact, the preferred way to address this issue is to say that someone is experiencing homelessness, rather than calling them “homeless.” It’s what they are enduring, not who they are.
There are, however, some distinguishable factors that often contribute to persons becoming and remaining homeless.
Lack of Affordable Housing
With rental prices soaring, it is becoming increasingly difficult for low-income renters to afford their monthly rent. Because of this, many individuals and families with low income are facing evictions. In addition, rising energy costs make it extremely difficult for many individuals and families to pay their utility bills.
Housing and utility prices are rising at an alarming rate, but wages for low-wage workers stay consistently low. Consider some local statistics: A full-time minimum wage worker, clocking 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, earns $8.40 per hour, or $17,472 annually. However, the median income in Montgomery County is now more than $107,000. An individual or family with an income below 30% of the median family income is at risk of homelessness; in Montgomery County, someone with a household income is around $35,000 could easily find himself in financial peril. (Think medical crisis, unexpected major expense or job loss.)
Note: that $35,000 presupposes two full-time minimum-wage earners. Imagine if even one is laid off.
Alcohol and drug addiction affect people from all walks of life. Addiction is a problem with which many people who are homeless are struggling. Living on the street or in a shelter is rarely conducive to working through a program of recovery.
Many people who are homeless suffer from severe and persistent mental illness. Mentally ill persons with low income have limited access to psychiatrists, therapists, and supportive housing. Many persons with mental illnesses can be stabilized with medication, but the high cost of this medication is often restrictive for people who are homeless and have no health insurance.
Job or Income Loss
Many families and individuals are only one check away from entering homelessness. The loss of employment of the major wage earner in a household could cause the family or individual to become homeless.
Re-entry after incarceration is particularly difficult for people who have few social supports and little financial means. Restrictions on employment and housing make it difficult for ex-offenders to reenter the job force and attain permanent housing.
Minority Sexual Orientation
Adolescents who self identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender leave home more frequently, are victimized more often, use highly addictive substances more frequently and have higher rates of psychopathology than those who identified as heterosexual. It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.