Preventing Homelessness

Widespread homelessness in the U.S. leaves behind little hope for the future of countless families by destroying their health and livelihood. The social stigma towards the homeless population often overlooks that being homeless is most likely the result of unfortunate circumstances rather than a series of bad life decisions.

A federal law entitling U.S. citizens the legal right to housing relieves the impoverished populace by providing them with shelter that is as necessary to surviving as food and water. At both a federal and state level, the mandate would designate responsibility to social housing agencies for supplying financial assistance, counseling advice and transitional housing to the homeless and those on the verge of losing their home. With these agencies and services in place, the severe issue of homelessness can decrease and funds can be used toward preserving family’s ownership and sense of dignity.

Current homeless outreach in the U.S. is limited to short-term alleviation of stress and hunger through voluntary services such as soup kitchens, food pantries and overnight homeless shelters. Instead, transitional housing would provide a useful housing and assistance route for helping homeless adults attain and sustain a home for themselves and their family. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, approximately 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness in their lives and around 7 million are at impending risk. With the little funding they receive, how can charities and non-profit organizations create enough soup kitchens and homeless shelters to serve this huge, disadvantaged population?

Monetary resources that are wasted treating homelessness, rather than preventing it, could be spent toward creating transitional homes and communities. These homes, overseen by appointed governmental agencies and funded by the state and federal government, can provide career coaches, guidance counselors and other sources of helpful advice to educate the homeless population on homeownership and acquiring a job. By federal law, the housing program would serve qualifying recipients such as mentally and physically disabled people, families with underage children and pregnant women. These vulnerable groups can greatly benefit from support networks and transitional housing to help get them back on their feet.

The government’s resources will not only provide support for transitional homes, but they will also alleviate the public health issue of people living on the streets. People with disabilities, mental illness and dependents are at a disadvantage in supporting themselves or their family and are normally those who end up losing their homes. A 2007 study conducted by the Homeless Research Institute found that 26% of the U.S. homeless population consisted of American war veterans. The primary causes for the high percentage were mental and physical disabilities, and limited skills outside of their military experience. If enacted now, a law requiring transitional housing for qualified clients can turn vacant apartment complexes and neighborhoods full of foreclosed homes into sites of transitional housing for deserving recipients like these veterans.

The most obvious problem with legal rights to housing would be the expensive upkeep of all the people in jeopardy of losing their homes. To address this issue, the federal and state governments can assign agencies to monitor and provide financial support to organizations that orchestrate the transitional housing programs in each state. Non-profit organizations that receive donations and funding under the legality of housing rights would be most beneficial for overseeing housing management.

Opposition to the mandate may argue that people will find an incentive to claim to be at risk of being homeless to benefit from the financial grants and live in secure housing. Under the law of rights to housing established by the federal government, those who qualify for the extra assistance will have a time limit in the transitional housing program and requirements to meet before the end of it. They will be required to meet regularly with coaches to learn how to attain a career through education or a development of necessary skills and counselors to learn how to avoid dismal living conditions in their home.

The best way to address homelessness is to prevent people from ever reaching that dire situation, rather than wasting funds on giving them temporary, substandard shelter and small increments of food and money. Although an expensive proposition, providing a legal right to housing would alleviate poverty and begging on street corners. With governmental funds set aside for the transitional housing program, people can be entitled a life necessity that is essential to surviving.

 

Michelle Dela Cruz is a fourth-year public health policy major. She can be reached at mmdelacr@uci.edu.