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Homeless in the Land of Plenty, Research Paper Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1975

Research Paper

Homeless in the Land of Plenty: Why the American Government Should be Doing More to Help the Homeless

There is a growing situation in America that is threatening to undermine the country’s morals and values. America was originally created on the ideals that everyone deserves an equal chance at prosperity and happiness. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who, on any given night, have no choice but to sleep on the streets. Of these, approximately 107,000 are veterans, men and women who risked their lives to defend America against enemies abroad (NCHV 2010). Even more alarming are the number of homeless children in America. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are approximately 1.5 million children who are homeless each year (Lendman, 2010).  Americans have taken two fronts on the issue of homelessness in America. One one side are those who insist that each person is responsible for their own success or failure and that it is not the government’s responsibility, nor the responsibility of other Americans, to assist the homeless. On the other side of the issue are those who say that helping out fellow American’s in their time of need is the definition of patriotism and that is exactly where our tax dollars should be going. While it is easy to dismiss the homeless by believing that they are only reaping the consequences of their own actions, the truth is not this simple. People become homeless for a number of reasons, including overwhelming debt, being laid off from work and unable to find another job and illness such as chronic disease. Those who find themselves homeless despite working hard all of their lives and serving their country with honor and gusto deserve the assistance of the government to whom they paid taxes to when their needs are the most desperate. The American government’s current policy towards the homeless is simply not adequate to deal with the problem. “The statistics are sad – for they show how little progress we’re making as a society in addressing this issue (Pressman, 2010).” The government should be taking a strong and decisive role in resolving the homeless problem in America due to the fact that many of the homeless are veterans who have served America with honor, children who are the nation’s future and other citizens who have been productive members of American society in the past and who have contributed their energy and money to the system, and all of whom deserve to be treated as equals in the country that has boasted proudly of its dedication to providing equality and justice to all of its citizens.

One group that stands out in the statistics regarding homelessness is American veterans. These are men and women who have served America both at home and abroad, many of whom have been in the line of fire. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are over 100,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night and an additional 1.5 million who “are at risk for homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living condition in overcrowded or substandard housing (NCHV, 2010).” The Veterans Association, or the VA, is the governmental agency responsible for overseeing veterans and their benefits. However, the agency is not able to fully support all of the veterans in need of housing and support. “Government money, while important, is currently limited, and available services are often at capacity (NCHV, 2010).” In 2009, the VA assisted 92,000 veterans, but this still left over 100,000 veterans in need (NCHV, 2010). The same country that these men and women fought to defend are being neglected. The military budget for 2010 was $663.8 billion (DoD, 2009).” While the DoD states on their website that part of these funds will go to “supporting our military families and providing long-term medical care to injured service members (DoD, 2009)” it is obvious that not enough funds are going to those that need it most, the displaced veterans.

Another group of American’s that are homeless in startling numbers are families with children. According to the Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH), 1 in 50 children are homeless each year. This is about 1.5 million children that are homeless annually (NCFH, 2010).  In America, “families with children comprise 34% of the homeless (Lendman, 2010).” It does not speak well of a country who will spend  $663.8 billion on military defense abroad but will not spend funds to ensure that its children have enough to eat on a daily basis. “With enough federal, state and local funding, child homelessness could end in a decade. Instead, its increasing because Washington ignores it. States aren’t doing enough – nearly half of them very little (Lendman, 2010).” The future for children that are homeless is dismal. Malnourishment is common in children who are homeless, and can lead to health problems later in life (Lendman, 2010). “Over the years, it’s become clear that the problem of family homelessness is perhaps more acute than the crisis of single adults sleeping out in the streets, although both problems should concern us deeply. The plight of homeless children is an indictment of us all (Pressman, 2010).” Children who grow up on the streets are less likely to grow up to be productive members of society due to lack of nourishment, education and stability. Instead, they are more likely to become a burden on society financially. Thus, it is in the best interest of America for the federal government to take a more active role in ending homelessness for children.

Most homeless people in America did not start out that way. They were once homeowners or renters, tax payers and workers. They contributed to American society with the belief that the system would be there for them when they needed it, should circumstances change for the worse. Circumstances have changed for many Americans, due to the economy and the housing market. “The rise in homelessness over the last 15 years has accompanied 2 broad trends, each of which has exacerbated the impact of the other. First, there has been a steady erosion of the supply of rental housing affordable to those falling at or below the poverty level. Second, the pool of poor people competing for these increasingly scarce units has swelled at precisely the same time (Baumohl, 26).”  The increase in the cost of housing in America, especially during the 1970’s and 1980’s, put many people out on the streets. During this period along the estimated number of homeless people in America jumped from 24.5 million to 31.9 million (Baumohl, 27).”  The market crash of 2008 has also displaced many from their homes. A combination of loss of jobs and the crash of the housing market has created a dismal situation for many American families. These are American’s who worked hard and bought homes, thinking they were making a sound investment. To be put out on the street after investing in the American Dream is a heart breaking scenario. In stead of punishing these hardworking American’s, it is the role of the government, to whom all these homeowners paid taxes, to aid them in their time of desperate need.

Finding affordable housing is the most common reason why American’s find themselves homeless. “According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “an estimated 12 million renter and homeowners now pay more than 50% of their annual incomes for housing (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2010).” Housing costs have become higher than the minimum wage, resulting in the fact that a family where only one person is working, and earning minimum wage, will not be able to afford the rent on a two bedroom apartment, even at local fair-market rent, anywhere in the United States (Alliance to End Homelessness, 2010). With the cost of housing so high, many families and individuals find that the cost of paying rent means that they have little left over for food, clothing and other expenditures. In order for housing to be affordable, according to HUD, or the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the cost of rent should be 30% of a monthly income.

The federal government could be doing more to subsidize  low income housing, which would result in many people and families being able to get into a home and off the streets. While the federal government does offer some subsidized housing cost, it is simply not adequate for the demand. Housing that is offered at less than fair market rates is under subsidized by the federal government. “While 79% of the 0.9 million units costing less than $125 monthly in 1993 were federally subsidized, the proportion dropped to 54% for the 3.1 million units costing between $125 and $250 and to 12% for the 12.3 million units costing between $250 and $500, with the proportion dropping further for higher-cost units (Baumohl, 35).” While subsidized housing is available, a “housing gap” is found in the number of low income households that are actually occupying those units. “Only 26% of ‘very low income’ renter households – the group eligible for housing assistance -lived in federally assisted housing (Baumohl, 36).”  In addition, it is a fact that at least a third of the inexpensive housing was being rented to those with an income above the bottom quarter.  There are many reasons why so many of the subsidized housing was left vacant, including bad location, wrong size and the unit being in substandard condition (Baumohl, 26). Many individuals were denied access to subsidized homes due to the fact that they were minorities or were families with children, victims of discriminatory renting practices (Baumohl, 26).” In order to meet the needs of households teetering on the edge of homelessness, the federal government needs to recalculate its housing subsidy budget and make subsidized housing more available to those in need. Substandard housing should be eliminated from the pool. If better, less expensive housing were available it would enable  lower income individuals and families to get off the streets.

Every American deserves a home if they are willing to work for it. While handouts may not be a solution the government or American’s are happy with, hard working American’s and families should be able to find a home that they can easily afford. Multiple solutions are available, from raising the minimum wage to decreasing the cost of housing. In a country that prides itself on being able to provide each citizen with the American dream, of owing a home, it is depressing that so many cannot afford a home, even if they are working. At bare minimum children and veterans should never want for a safe and affordable home. Children are the nations future and should be nurtured and cared for. Veterans have risked their lives for the safety of American’s and at the least deserve a home for what they have sacrificed. Individuals displaced from their home because of market and housing crashes should not be punished for economic hardship. There is plenty of abundance in America, more than enough housing and food to go around. It is the role of the government to assist its citizens in their time of need and, as long as they are willing to work, to be given a clean safe place to live so they can get off the street and get on with their lives.

References

“Background and Statistics” National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. 2010. 29 Oct. 2010  http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm

Baumohl, Jim. Homelessness In America 1st. ed. Westport, Connecticut: The Oryx Press, 1996.

“DoD Releases Fiscal 2010 Budget Proposal” United States Department of Defense May 7, 2009. 29 Oct. 2010  http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=12652

“Frequently Asked Questions” National Alliance to End Homelessness 2010. 29 Oct. 2010  http://www.endhomelessness.org/section/about_homelessness/faqs

Lendman, Stephen.“Child Homelessness in America” World Prout Assembly 2010. 29 Oct. 2010  http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives/2010/07/child_homelessn.html

Pressman, Gabe.“New Yorkers Don’t Think City Hall is Doing Enough About Homelessness” NBC New York Online 2010. 29 Oct. 2010 http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local-beat/Survey-Finds-New-Yorkers-Dont-Think-City-Hall-Is-Doing-Enough-About-Homelessness-94289074.html

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