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Homelessness is a situation in which a person does not have a permanent place of residence. This is distinguished from nomadic cultures where that condition is considered normal. The problem of homelessness is most prevalent in the poor sections of large cities and suburbs.

There are a number of causes of homelessness. In areas with high unemployment many may not be able to find jobs, and thus pay for a permanent residence. In other areas many homeless may be employed, but paid such a low wage that they cannot afford decent accommodation. Some studies suggest, paradoxically, that rent control and other housing regulations, laws created with the express intention of increasing housing affordability actually result in increased homelessness by reducing the supply of housing. Social changes, such as the movement to recognize the rights of those considered mentally ill, could lead to increased homelessness, as such people can no longer be arbitrarily rounded up and committed to mental hospitals.

Homelessness can often produce a vicious circle. With no phone number, permanent address, or place to get changed and washed it can be very hard for the homeless to find jobs.

A number of homeless suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness, all of which make it difficult to maintain employment. Many of these problems may stem from sexual abuse, physical abuse, or other trauma. Many long-term homeless people in the United States, for instance, served in the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that more than 299,321 veterans are homeless on any given night. Physical disabilities which make work difficult or impossible are also common among homeless people.

While many homeless do have paying jobs, others have to find other methods to make money. Begging or panhandling is one option, but it is illegal in many areas and brings in varying amounts of money. Note that just as not all homeless people panhandle, not all panhandlers are homeless. Another option is busking by performing tricks, playing music, drawing on the sidewalk, or offering some other form of entertainment. In Britain many sell copies of The Big Issue, a magazine started to offer homeless (and recently-homeless) people a way to make legal income.

In many cities, people who busk, panhandle, or visibly sleep outdoors are harassed by authorities. This trend is referred to as the criminalization of homelessness. It is often motivated by urban development and pushes towards gentrification.

Homeless shelters operated by government, churches, or charities work to provide temporary housing to the homeless. While some shelters also provide food, others must turn to food banks and soup kitchens for nutrition. Other services provided by some shelters include health clinics , clothing and personal items, employment assistance , counseling and other social services. However, there are a number of complaints about the safety and quality of homeless shelters. Subsidized housing is a more expensive solution that some believe might end the cycle of homelessness.

Statistics for Developed Countries

The following statistics indicate the approximate average number of homeless people at any one time. Each country has a different approach to counting homeless people, so comparisons should be made with caution.

European Union: 3,000,000 (Unicef 1998)
United States: 750,000 (Unicef 1998)
Canada: 200,000 (CBC News December 1998)
Australia: 21,000 (Unicef 1998)

The number of homeless people worldwide has grown steadily in recent years. In some Third World nations such as Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa, homelessness is rampant, with millions of children living and working on the streets. Homelessness has become a problem in the cities of China, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines despite their growing prosperity, mainly due to migrant workers who have trouble finding permanent homes and to rising income inequality between social classes.

Causes of homelessness

In the United Kingdom, the three leading stated reasons homeless people give for losing their previous accommodation, according to government surveys, are:

  • Parents, relatives or friends not being able or willing to provide accommodation;
  • Relationship breakdown;
  • End of assured shorthold tenancy.

See also

External links

Willie York - Homeless person in Peoria, IL. USA

Last updated: 08-01-2005 17:08:31
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