How can homelessness happen?

manwithsignImagine a downtown bench or alleyway. Picture the disheveled, elderly woman you so often see there. Ever wish you could hear her story?

Imagine that man in tattered clothing holding the cardboard sign at a busy intersection. Do you wonder how he got there?

Imagine the children found in thousands of shelters across the nation. Can you even envision what circumstances have led their families there?

As we’ve said a hundred times, homelessness is not what you’d expect. The National Alliance to End Homelessness (who just launched a blog last week), posted a wonderful breakdown of how homelessness can happen to veterans, families, youth, and the chronically homeless. You can find the full post here.

Here are some particularly interesting tidbits:

Veterans often become homeless as a result of some post-war challenges. Emotional or mental distress (including PTSD, emotional trauma, etc.) can manifest in damaging behaviors, like substance abuse and addiction. These behaviors can then lead to the inability to maintain permanent housing…

Family homelessness is typically caused by some unforeseen costly event: a raise in rent, medical emergency, or the like. The inability to manage this financial hurdle can push a family into homelessness – an occurrence that’s been felt more dramatically in the current recession…Despite sensationalized news reports, families that experience this kind of homelessness aren’t typically picturesque, middle-class families. They’re typically families that were already living on the economic fringes of society – often paycheck-to-paycheck – who are pushed off by the big event…

“[Youth homelessness] happens as a result of some kind of family disruption (divorce, abuse, etc.)…Our foster care and juvenile justice care also contribute to youth homelessness. Those who age out of foster care (once they turn 18) or get out of the juvenile justice system are often without the social support systems of guidance networks and end up highly at-risk of becoming homeless…

“By and large, chronically homeless people have some sort of disability – either physical or psychological. This is usually a key factor in their homelessness, and the central roadblock to their finding a stable home…”

These four groups (veterans, families, youth, and the chronically homeless) are the primary groups the National Alliance to End Homelessness targets. We think the Alliance provided a solid description of the causes of homelessness for these groups, and in Friday’s post, we will delve a little deeper into some of the main contributors to homelessness we observe here at the Coalition.

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