Understanding The Impact Of Homelessness
On any given night, over half a million people across the United States are unhoused, left to sleep on the streets, in their car, in encampments or homeless shelters, or “doubled up” with friends or family.
While each of these living conditions may come with their own unique challenges, the impact of being unhoused permeates regardless of where one ends up laying their head at night, and can range from health issues to safety concerns and everything in between.
Essentially, no aspect of a persons life goes unaffected when they are left without housing. Their mental and physical health takes a toll. Their relationships take a toll. Their sense of self-esteem and worth takes a toll.
In turn, they are faced with even more challenges to navigate creating a vicious cycle where the obstacles resulting from a lack of housing make it even more difficult for an individual to obtain housing in the future.
Understanding the impact that homelessness has in all areas of a persons life makes clear the urgent need to address this crisis and provide our communities with adequate care and resources to prevent people from ever entering this cycle to begin with.
The Impact of Homelessness
While mental and physical health can play a key role is causing someone to become homeless, they can also be deeply impacted due to the experience of homelessness.
Individuals and families who are unhoused have to endure a variety of challenging and life-threatening obstacles on a daily basis including immense stress, unsanitary living conditions, malnutrition, harmful weather, and exposure to violence. More often then not, they also do not have access to adequate mental or physical healthcare, or even affordable medication, leaving them with essentially no support or means of dealing with the health issues that arise.
In addition, “chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma become worse because there is no safe space to store medication properly.”
What could be fairly easily managed for someone with housing and access to affordable healthcare can become a matter of life or death for someone living on the streets.
People sleeping on the streets, in encampments, or even in homeless shelters are also frequently exposed to violence and unsanitary living conditions. This can come in the form of cruel and inhumane treatment from the public, criminalization by law enforcement, altercations with others on the streets, in the encampment, or at the homeless shelter, or by interference from city and state policy makers.
These threats to an individuals safety can put them at increased risk for incarceration by leading them to engage in illegal activities or behavior (such as stealing food or trespassing) in an attempt to find safety or simply survive.
Once entering the prison system, individuals are only met with many more barriers to reaching the housing they need and deserve.
Sense of Self
Eventually, the stress of not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night, when you’re going to eat next, or if you’ll make it safely to tomorrow makes an already unbearable situation even more difficult.
Between the disconnection from ones previous life, difficult situations that lead to difficult choices, and the overall lack of security that comes with being without housing, its no surprise that this begins to eat away at a persons self-esteem. Over time, their experiences may become internalized as personal failures rather than societal shortcomings, putting them at risk for mental health challenges, suicidal ideation, and substance misuse.
Those who are chronically unhoused may also begin to lose their sense of self, unable to remember who they were before losing access to housing.
Difficulty Joining the Workforce
One of the key ways to get those without housing back on their feet is through steady, reliable employment – something made to feel seemingly impossible to do without a roof already over your head and money already in your pocket.
Homeless Hub explains that “not having a home means that people experiencing homelessness may not have an address to put on a résumé, a phone number for job call backs, and a safe place to prepare for job interviews.”
In addition they may have limited access to transportation, lack the experience, training, or means of obtaining training required for the job, or have a criminal record, disability, or health issue adding yet another obstacle to their ability to obtain employment.
What is the Solution to Homelessness?
Decades of corrupt structural dynamics, systemic shortcomings, and policies failing to meet basic human needs can not be fixed overnight, but real change can happen when we come together to empower those who are struggling in our communities.
By understanding the impact that being unhoused has on all areas of a persons life, it makes clear the urgent need to address this crisis and provide our communities with tangible care and resources to get those experiencing homelessness into permanent housing.
In partnership with The Alpha Project, and through the collective support of those in our communities, the J&J Lovelace Foundation is raising funds to provide housing first solutions including rapid rehousing services, substance use treatment, mental health care, training and employment opportunities, and more.
With the help of kind and compassionate people like you, we have the ability to empower those without safe, stable housing through self-sufficiency, dignity, and respect.
Be part of the change by making a donation to support those who are struggling most.
-Written by Cassie Cipolla for J&J Lovelace Foundation