Homelessness is a very individualized experience for anyone suffering from it, so finding an exact method for solving it is difficult. It’s similar to how the medicine affects people in different ways or surgical procedures cause different reactions in the body. With more attention, understanding, and support for the problem, there can be significant progress made.
Causes of Homelessness
There are three main kinds of homelessness affecting society: chronic, episodic, and transitional. Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has been suffering from homelessness for over a year or has suffered four or more different times, equivalent to 12 months, within three years. They live long-term in a homeless shelter rather than using it as an emergency place to stay or a place that shouldn’t be inhabited by a person.
When someone is suffering from episodic homelessness, they are having recurrent issues with keeping a stable home. The individual is commonly young and becomes homeless from abuse, mental illness, addiction, unemployment, or low wages.
Transitional homelessness is a sudden, usually short-term form of homelessness caused by a sudden catastrophic event such as the loss of a job, a disaster like a tornado or fire, a child losing their guardian(s), or domestic violence.
Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
Mental illness and substance abuse, tied for the third leading cause, go hand in hand with chronic or episodic homelessness. They enhance each other and cause a massive downward spiral for the individual suffering from it. Whether or not mental illness and addiction were a part of the person’s life before they became homeless or even caused them to be in that situation, the stress and trauma of homelessness can lead to more intense symptoms or desire for drugs and alcohol and using drugs as self-medication for a mental or physical illness. Behavior relating to mental illness and addiction can create problems with keeping up with daily activities, and on a much bigger scale, keeping a stable home and job.
Studies conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless show that 33% of the homeless population suffers from a form of mental illness. The most common forms affecting the homeless population are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety. There has been a huge lack of support for people suffering from mental illness throughout history, causing both increased homelessness and people in jail. The Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which helped provide grants to nonprofit and public organizations to fund assessments for mental health service needs, professional and financial assistance, community engagement, and other programs, was repealed by former President Ronald Reagan. This caused the closing of many institutional mental health centers and left patients with no housing and healthcare services to become a part of the community again.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 38% of the homeless population were dependent on alcohol and 26% were dependent on other drugs. Homeless people often turn to alcohol and drugs as temporary relief from the stress and negative emotions they suffer from, but it hinders them from getting help from themselves and outside sources. Lack of funding, accessibility, and attention to the homeless population among rehabilitation centers, substance abuse treatment, and prevention programs make it very difficult for people to get the help they need with treating their addiction and stabilizing their housing and employment situation.
Children who experience homelessness are caused by family problems, ranging from the loss of a guardian to being kicked out for various reasons to abuse. Children can also be born into a homeless family due to a lack of resources for pregnancy prevention and sexual assault.
My father experienced homelessness twice during his childhood after being kicked out by his mother. Both times were from a disagreement they had. Youth who are sent away by their parents because of disagreements, religious views, sexual preferences, and other reasons have nowhere to go. They are too young to get a job to provide for themselves, and especially too young to buy or rent a home or apartment. Without the support of their family, children are utterly alone and will have much more trouble bringing themselves out of homelessness.
In Mills and Ota’s journal Homeless Women with Minor Children in the Detroit Metropolitan Area, they discuss how young mothers without a high school diploma and no income and their children become homeless because of mental illness or substance abuse. They were likely to have already been struggling financially and the new life they had to provide made their financial situation crumble. If a mother and the father, if present, isn’t prepared financially or emotionally for a child, it’s common that the sudden additional expense becomes too much for them to handle.
Homelessness has a huge negative effect on children because they don’t get the proper physical and emotional development. With a lack of proper socialization with other children their age, they can develop emotional and behavioral problems, especially if their guardian suffers from a similar problem. They also suffer from serious health problems due to a lack of access to medicine, support, food, and clean water. It’s common for children suffering from homelessness to having a proper education as many of them retake a grade, drop out early, perform less than average, and get in more trouble because of their lack of social interactions.
Adults, and children if they are in that situation as well, can become homeless because of domestic violence. People in an abusive relationship are most likely in absolute reliance on the abuser so when they flee, they have nothing of their own to fall back on. They are often forced to lose all contact with their family and friends, so they have nowhere else to go but the streets. 80% of homeless mothers with children have experienced domestic violence
Actions Taking Place in Detroit
The WAVE Project
The WAVE (Welcoming All, Valuing Everyone) Project, which was established in 2018 in Macomb County, is a nonprofit organization that provides private showers and bathrooms to those in need. The organization started out in Mount Clemens as a monthly meeting with volunteers and homeless members of the community. They discovered that homeless people have a lot of trouble getting access to proper showers and other hygiene, whether it be because of location, transportation, or other reasons. Their shower trailer includes 3 private stalls with a toilet, sink, and a stand-up shower. With just this one trailer, the members of the WAVE Project are able to provide over 40 showers to homeless individuals during one event, which lasts around 4 hours.
The importance of this project isn’t because it solves homelessness, but because it brings hope and dignity back to the homeless members of our community. With the morale boost of being clean and presentable, there can be sparked the inspiration to pull themselves out and begin to rebuild the lives they had before homelessness took over. More often than not, establishments won’t want to hire a homeless person and this causes the individual to avoid job interviews from a lack of confidence in their hygiene. But by providing these showers, the volunteers are making opportunities possible for the homeless to go and have successful job interviews and stock up on money for the future. On the news, where I found out about the WAVE Project, I saw a story about a homeless man who was a part of a recent event in Detroit. He had a job interview that same day and he was able to get himself cleaned up before he went. An organization like this is an amazing push in the right direction for homeless people, giving them the proper morale boost to bring their lives back.
During the interview I had with Todd Gordon, co-founder of the WAVE Project, two of my questions were about how the community and government can help bring an end to homelessness. Gordon answered, “There are a lot of really good people who are trying to make an impact. So one of the things that I know is already occurring is collaboration and mutual assistance. Even just getting in the same room and sharing ideas and coordinating services, helping one another along the way…It all comes down to who you know.” There is an idea of homeless people that “there are trepidations that they themselves don’t care enough to fix”, so Gordon believes that there should be more understanding of homelessness and the people who suffer from it, that they aren’t just lazy and trying to get free handouts. Homelessness is a real problem, not just an act. He stated that he believes that the goal of the WAVE Project is to love the individual for who they are and where they’re at, not acting in fear, disgust, or mistrust.
Gordon described the homeless people being able to shower for the first time in maybe weeks or months as a “powerful transformative moment.” In the beginning, when they first approach the shower they are scared, hesitant, and guarded but they “emerge with a glow and a gratefulness that words can’t explain.”
The Clay Center and the Bell Building
The Clay Center, created by the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), is planned to be opened in 2020 on Mack and Elmwood off Gratiot. There is a $20 million investment for the campus which will include a permanent apartment complex with 45 private units, available to single adults. Included in the two-story building, there will be mental health services, substance abuse services, job, and resume assistance, transportation, and a medical center.
The Oakman Boulevard Bell Building, another project that provides permanent housing and other services for formerly homeless adults, was also founded by the NSO. The building includes 155 fully furnished apartments. On top of the services mentioned previously, the Bell Building includes other resources like a gym, library, computer room, art and music rooms, and a chapel.
Actions Taking Place Around the World
Many of the homeless services in Detroit find that the most important action to emphasize is Housing First. To get people off the streets and give them a steady footing on improving and building their lives and health, organizations are providing permanent housing. The idea is that before any significant improvements can be made such as employment, budgeting, mental health services, and rehabilitation, basic necessities like food and shelter must be provided. Homeless individuals have access to a home no matter what their situation is, without needing to go through the service tests and programs before receiving a home. On top of the housing, other services are provided that each individual selects for themselves. The services range from doctors, therapists, social workers, faith groups, family, and friends. Because of this, the Housing First program can be personalized for each individual or family suffering from homelessness.
Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness
The Campaign to End Homelessness for Michigan has five goals, housing all homeless veterans, annually reducing chronic homelessness by 20% and family, individual, and youth homelessness by 10%. A common proposal to end homelessness is affordable housing and the Michigan Action Plan for 2017 to 2019 is no different. There is a plan to establish more affordable housing where the homeless population is more prominent. The members of this action plan believe that “no man, woman, or child should be forced to sleep on the streets, in the woods, or on a cot in a shelter on any night, in any town or city in Michigan. Any homeless experience should be brief, rare, and non-recurring.” They also want to provide fast and proper income support so there is no unnecessary waiting.
If there is a way to completely end homelessness, the most effective and important way to start is to provide permanent housing for homeless individuals and families. With the majority of the homeless population feeling completely hopeless, trapped, and humiliated, they need a huge morale boost. By providing basic housing, food, hygiene, and safety, the people suffering from homelessness can eventually feel like themselves again and regain the motivation to make their lives better. General skills and job training would be beneficial as well to give a skillset valuable in the working world.
However, it can just stop at housing and training. Mental health and addiction are very prominent factors in homelessness and they have to be acknowledged in order to properly end homelessness. Once they become stable with their new home, if there are deep-rooted factors affecting the homeless victim such as mental illness or substance abuse, there has to be a more permanent solution so they don’t succumb to that again and lose what was worked for. To help solve the root causes of homelessness, programs such as support groups, mental health services, and rehabilitation centers have to be accessible to homeless people.
With community programs like the WAVE Project, volunteering, and government organizations like the NSO working together, I think that homelessness can be overcome. As Todd Gordon said, collaboration is the best way for solutions to take place. People working together and becoming aware of the seriousness and vastness of homelessness will inspire people to volunteer, donate, and fundraise. The homeless community won’t be able to help themselves in the beginning, they’re going to need access to resources that will be provided by collaboration. It’s not simply going to be one solution however, every homeless individual and family has their own situation and they’ll need their own set of solutions to efficiently bring their lives back to normal. A general framework of affordable housing and various needed services can be universal, but some people may need more help and attention in certain areas than others.