Cities have always produced the two extreme walks of life in society. Due to their large heterogeneous composition when it comes to population, they highlight the core social problems that exist in a society. As economic, cultural and political hubs, they attract numerous people seeking opportunities to enable them earn a living no wonder the heterogeneous population composition. Social problems mushroom when interdependence of a city and its environs fails for instance when the agricultural resources can no longer sustain the urban population, or when a city starts parasitically feeding on its environment due to heavy taxation of dwellers, high population and loss of industry. The failure of cities to integrate with their environments has mostly been witnessed in the United States mostly caused by negligence on the part of the government, exploitation by rich individuals and misguided urban policies. The core social problems that arise as a result of this failure are; homelessness, drug abuse, gangs and crime, violence, poverty, dysfunctional families poor infrastructure and health care among many others. Below we take a broader look at homelessness as a social problem in finer details.
Housing is a basic human need and lack of it, robs people of their health, security and chances of a good life. Homelessness can be defined as having no accommodation at all or having an accommodation that is not reasonable to live in. Homelessness has been chronic particularly in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite most people being in denial about the rampant rate of homelessness in major cities, the Urban Institute estimates that roughly 800,000 people in the United States are homeless on a given day. This number has been increasing year by year, for instance it grew by 19 percent between 2001 and 2002. In a survey conducted in 26 cities by the US conference of mayors, it was found that families with children made 41 percent of the homeless, 63 percent of these families having single parents. Unaccompanied minors composed 5 percent of the homeless therefore proving how big social problem homelessness is. The ethnic breakdown was as follows; 35 percent were white Americans, 2 percent were Native Americans, 50 percent were African Americans, 12 percent were Hispanic Americans and 1 percent was Asian Americans (Burns & Richter, 2011).
This homelessness was caused to a large extent by forces that were intended to improve other aspects of people’s lives. Efforts to rejuvenate cities through construction of central business districts for instance destroyed 2.2 million affordable housing units between 1973 and 1993. This forced the poor out of their neighborhoods into the streets increasing demand for low income housing and as a result raising the rent beyond that the masses could afford (Eitzman et al., 2013).
Another factor that increased the number of homeless people was the Supreme Court ruling in the case of O’Connor v. Donaldson that non-dangerous institutionalized patients could not be confined against their will therefore their de-institutionalization led to the release of thousands of people into the streets. These people are often disoriented because they stop taking the psychoactive drugs therefore ending up surviving as best as they can on the streets. Other factors causing homelessness are a lack of education, poor housing system, and lack of affordable housing, social trends such as relationship breakdowns, unemployment and poverty. A chronic illness can also render a family struggling to pay rent homeless. A chronic illness can start a downward spiral of losing a job, depletion of savings and eventual eviction.
Some of the social implications of this problem include the acceleration of substance abuse especially among the young since crack is cheaply available compared to alcohol. The Drug and Rehabilitation Center for instance has detoxified thousands of homeless adults over the past decade most of whom were diagnosed to be crack addicts and problem drinkers. Because children are the most vulnerable members of society; homeless children are four times more likely to drop out of school or repeat a grade and be subject to child abuse. Parents on the other hand are 30% more likely to abuse drugs, 50% more likely to engage in domestic violence and twice as likely to suffer from mental illnesses.
Another implication is that chronic and acute ailments are a commonplace among the homeless. Homeless people are more likely to suffer from most categories of chronic ailments with the exception of cancer, strokes and obesity. These chronic conditions such as AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes and hypertension are very difficult to handle without adequate housing. Most of the homeless further suffer from frequent leg ulcers, frost bites, respiratory infections and trauma from beatings, mugging and rape.
The public perception towards the homeless is often negative, full of disdain and discomfort. As a result, local leaders have resorted to evicting the homeless due to the pressure from angry residents and merchants who complain of aggressive panhandling by street dwellers. The leaders manage to do this by legislating strict laws that prohibit panhandling and sleeping in public places. Ironically, the public is more sympathetic to alcoholics and drug abusers who are rich and famous than to those who tug on the sleeves of passersby for a handout. People fail to understand that addicts living in the streets need just as much help as those celebrities who can afford expensive clinics (Dragon, 2011).
This homelessness problem was being combated using shelters and removing barriers to housing commonly known as housing first as a pre-condition to ending homelessness. This alone was not working out hence the introduction of supportive programs to control the psychological damage that has befallen the homeless (Nemiroff et al., 2011). Significant results have been obtained by converting shelters into transitional housing and solving health and unemployment problems directly. The supportive programs include health care for the homeless, crisis nursery, together in emotional strength, and residential educational training center to address core problems of homelessness such as inadequate health care, domestic violence, poor education, job training and substance abuse. Another important program is the universal health insurance system to reduce the social and fiscal impact of homelessness by cutting down on the death toll due to homelessness (Moulton, 2013).
In conclusion, it is quite evident that homelessness is not only an economic status but also a condition with severe physical and mental effects on an individual. While a few individuals may recover from homelessness, most of them remain in that situation without external intervention hence making this a core social problem. There is hope that this problem will be tackled full in the near future since it is responding with the measures in place, for instance the number of homeless individuals in the United States fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2008 due to the combination of the high performing housing programs and the policies in place. Dealing with this problem therefore requires a welfare driven response instead of a justice driven response.
Alexander-Eitzman, B., Pollio, D. E., & North, C. S. (2013). The Neighborhood Context of Homelessness. American Journal Of Public Health, 103(4), 1007-e7. doi:10.2105/10AJPH.2012.301007
Burns, K., & Richter, S. (2011). Alberta's Urban Homelessness Research Capacities: A Comprehensive Environmental Scan from 1990 to 2010. Canadian Journal Of Urban Research, 20(2), 71-90.
DRAGON, N. (2011). Homelessness: is everyone's business. (cover story). Australian Nursing Journal, 18(9), 26.
Moulton, S. (2013). Does Increased Funding for Homeless Programs Reduce Chronic Homelessness?. Southern Economic Journal, 79(3), 600-620. doi:10.4284/0038- 4038-2010.309
Nemiroff, R., Aubry, T., & Klodawsky, F. (2011). From homelessness to community: psychological integration of women who have experienced homelessness. Journal Of Community Psychology, 39(8), 1003-1018. doi:10.1002/jcop.20486