"We are working tirelessly to continue expanding shelter, housing, and supportive services throughout San Francisco, the openings of these two new sites add hundreds of new beds for people to transition off our streets into shelter, and get them on a path to stable housing instead of camping in our neighborhoods." London Breed, Mayor of the city of San Francisco (July 2022)
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there are two trends that are responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20 to 25 years, namely a growing shortage of affordable housing and an increase in poverty. (National Coalition for the Homeless) Knowing that homelessness and poverty are linked, this explains why metropolitan cities across the United States, such as San Francisco, New York City, Detroit or Seattle are seeing a rise in tent cities and higher inequality levels within society. Other factors leading to a wide range of poverty and therefore homelessness include a lack of affordable healthcare, domestic violence situations, mental illness, and addiction disorders. (National Coalition for Homeless) With this in mind, homelessness is not a recent phenomenon in the United States. As Policy Advice depicts, “homelessness is not a novelty in the US. It’s become a source of concern as early as the 19th century as urbanization projects exposed those most vulnerable. However, keeping track of the US homeless rate is only a recent process.” (Policy Advice)
Let’s take a closer look at the statistics surrounding this topic. According to HUD Exchange, approximately 17 people per 10,000 experience homelessness each day. According to the White House, there are around 552,830 homeless people in the US. “With around half a million individuals living in a state of homelessness, things are not looking great.” (Policy Advice) Of the homeless population, around 89.7% of them are 24 years or older. However, over 70% of homeless persons are young adults below the age of 50. (National Law Center on Homeless & Poverty) “As terrifying as it sounds, homelessness is more likely to affect people aged 24-50; hence, the homeless population is comparatively younger than the total US population. This means two things – firstly, with the appropriate support, these individuals could rebuild their lives. Secondly, prolonged exposure to rough living conditions on the street will aggravate health problems and reduce the percentage of seniors among the homeless.” (Smiljanic Stasha – Policy Advice)
San Francisco, one of the cities in America that has a higher homeless population crisis, is expected to hit record-breaking numbers this year. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “San Francisco officials estimate as many as 20,000 people will experience homelessness at some point in the year 2022 – and for every one person housed by a city program, four more will become unhoused.” (SF Chronicle) If we take a further look at the role that race and ethnicity play into the city’s homeless demographics, we can see that “Latinos are now a full 30% of the homeless population, compared with being 16% of the general population… Black people make up 38% of the homeless count compared with being 6% of the general population.” (SF Chronicle) According to Laura Valdez, director of Dolores Street Community Services, “Black and Latinx people are going to be overrepresented in the numbers of homelessness because of poverty, systemic racism, the historic marginalization of our communities, redlining, lack of affordable housing, gentrification.” (SF Chronicle) It’s important to note that the pandemic worsened socioeconomic conditions for many individuals and families, as job loss and lack of affordable housing added to the income inequality gap.
While San Francisco is just one case study of many cities across the United States, the same logistics apply to other urban spaces where homelessness is on the rise. While Congress has recognized that this issue is a bipartisan one that damages the lives of several people in rural, urban and suburban communities, there is still the issue of how to enact policy that will stop homelessness from continuing to rise, and how to help those that are living on the streets of America now. This symposium seeks to analyze the current state of homelessness in the country and assess how the system has failed these individuals, how policy can help them, and what are the factors that have led to this occurrence being so widespread.
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