Increasing rents, destruction of existing low-income housing, and cuts in federal housing programs threaten the availability of affordable housing.
Affordability is the critical housing problem for people with low incomes. Estimates indicate that there are twice as many low-income families searching for homes as there are affordable units available. Many homeless people are waiting on subsidized Section 8 housing lists -- waits that can take up to six years. Others cannot even get on to the waiting list.
And, only about a third of low-income families eligible for housing assistance actually receive it.
Millions of low-income American households pay more that 50 percent of their income on rent when estimates say the figure should be no more than 30 percent. Oftentimes, they pay more than half their income for substandard homes with serious physical problems.
The problem is getting worse. Studies indicate that the number of unassisted, very low-income renter households facing eviction is increasing.
Over 30 million people live at or below the poverty line. Given the fact that nearly one in ten of extremely poor people become homeless, those individuals are at serious risk.
Millions of people are unemployed and minimum wage earnings don't lift families above the poverty line. It is shocking that almost half of the homeless population works, but cannot earn enough to pay for housing.
There is no jurisdiction in the United States in which a full-time job at the prevailing minimum wage (federal or state) provides enough income to allow a household to afford a one-bedroom home at the region's fair market rent.
Slashed public assistance leaves many people homeless or at risk of homelessness. Benefits for individuals are inadequate and difficult to obtain. Food stamps have been reduced.
There is a gaping hole in the so-called safety net.
Inadequate government programs addressing health care, the mental health care, child care, and education prevent homeless people from escaping their circumstances.
The millions of low-income Americans without health insurance are not prepared to weather an economic crisis resulting from a prolonged illness. Homeless people are twice as likely as the general population to have chronic health problems but are not likely to receive adequate health care.
Mental Health Care
In addition, a significant number of the homeless population is mentally disabled, but don't receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Thousands of low-income individuals never receive substance abuse treatment because the programs are severely under-funded. And, the de-institutionalization policies of the 1960s left many individuals abandoned to the streets with no services or means of support.
Child care for low income working parents is also an under-funded service in the United States. The help that is available only meets a fraction of total need. Millions of parents must choose between seeking employment and caring for their children.
Finally, current education policy only serves to increase social disparity. Residency requirements, the inability to obtain school records, and a lack of transportation create barriers to public education for hundreds of thousands of homeless children. Many children are denied access to school, despite federal law.
There are more homeless people in the United States than resources available to help them. Many homeless people have no place to be -- except in public. Cities report that shelter requests made by homeless families go unmet more than half the time.
However, rather than addressing the causes of homelessness, some cities across the country are responding to this disparity by passing and enforcing laws punishing homeless people.
Some cities outlaw sleeping, eating, and even sitting in public even though there are no alternative places for homeless people to sleep, eat, or sit.