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Poverty and Homelessness

Homelessness has always been a problem among different groups of people in our society. New immigrants crowded into existing structures to have a place to sleep. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, vast numbers of people left the upper Midwest and moved to other areas to try to find jobs. They lived in tent cities. During this time of the Great Depression, men most frequently became hobos and traveled in an unsafe manner by railroad from community to community to find something to eat and a place to sleep.

In 1963, the Community Mental Health Centers Act was passed and along with it came the unintended consequences of certain individuals who had been de-institutionalized and could not adjust to society, and did not receive adequate supervision, care, and housing. This has led to homelessness, incarceration and violence among some of the approximately 1.8 million people who suffer from severe mental health problems. A portion of these individuals makes up the homeless of today.

The poor have always had higher rates of disease, limited access to health care, inability to pay for their basic needs, and a greater potential for helplessness and homelessness. They are mostly uninsured and therefore do not get preventive care, resulting in many serious chronic illnesses. The US Supreme Court ruled that each state can decide if it wants to extend Medicaid to additional individuals especially those without children. Some states such as Florida have not accepted an extension of Medicaid and therefore there are over 800,000 individuals without any type of insurance. These are basically the very poor. The poor live in neighborhoods which are overcrowded, deteriorating rapidly, and in close proximity to many environmental hazards. They are therefore more prone to become severely ill and die at earlier ages than would be anticipated.

Today, poverty is no longer just among the lower economic class but rather has moved into the middle economic class. Today’s homeless are primarily women, children, and families and not the mentally ill or the street people who decide to live without a home. Some of the women and children have left abusive families and have no place to live. Others lost their jobs and then their homes. Past housing crises and foreclosure crises have contributed substantially to this problem. There are pregnant teenagers and also those who are drug addicted, who have been thrown out by angry parents, and senior citizens and veterans who no longer have a family to take care of them. Where a shelter is available, people typically leave them because of various fears. On any given night, 700,000-800,000 people are homeless and in any given year, 2.5-3.5 million people experience homelessness. The reduction or stagnation of income and the loss of jobs have created a new class of poverty, hunger and homelessness. In 2013, over 46.3 million Americans lived in poverty.

In addition, we have the service people who went to war to protect our country who for many reasons are now homeless and hungry.

In the United States today, over 5 million families with over 4 million children live in houses where there is overcrowding, very poor living conditions, and poor facilities. Despite government help in paying for shelter, there are millions of individuals who cannot find appropriate, affordable housing.

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