How Do People Become Homeless?

Jan 22, 2020 · 42 comments
katesisco (usa)
Read some; frightening and more frightening. Consider that science has now admitted that the toxic air (CO2) on the auto exhaust saturated roads and in the 1,000 pupil school building is a danger to a child's intelligence. That baby in the car seat, it's having its IQ tugged down by the saturated CO2 air. We all understand average IQ of 100 but the hidden low IQ of 85 to 95 may be the 'mental problems' which we have allowed to happen by the careless spread of profitable chemical cocktails by our corporate owners. We've all done this by not holding our elected officials responsible for protecting our health and financials security over corporate greed. Is your job protected by Civil Service? Do you know why the French are protesting? They know this is coming. Middle class America still exists ONLY the proportion has altered; there is Civil Service protected gov jobs, teachers, fire, and police and what used to be the ------workers, only now its Civil Service gov jobs, teachers, fire and 10x times as many police. Yes, working factory jobs are gone; police have been hired in numbers that replace them so, we do still have a middle class and we McD workers are paying their pensions.
Sean (OR, USA)
Here in Eugene Oregon many are homeless by choice. Recently a woman who has worked with the homeless for many years wrote about the causes of homelessness. She wrote that a common refrain from them is "I would rather be homeless than.... (fill in the blank.)" So being homeless, it seems, bothers observers and neighbors of the homeless more than it does the actual homeless. Of course I recognize these are sweeping generalizations and there are exceptions. People do come here from around the country to be homeless here because its a good place to be homeless. Mental illness is a big factor too. It's amazing how many people have ptsd, depression and/or anxiety. I don't know if people have changed or if diagnostic methods have, but this epidemic is new. These disorders are, for many, a life sentence of hopelessness. Hopelessness can lead to homelessness. Landlords don't want to take a chance on the homeless and who can blame them. There are too many horror stories of houses destroyed by filth and non-payment of rent. Here is a mental exercise. Think of a homeless person you have seen. Would you let them live in your house? Why not? See the problem? Yes, I know human dignity must be maintained, but how do you legislate dignity into a human?
Gunnar (Lincoln)
@Sean "So being homeless, it seems, bothers observers and neighbors of the homeless more than it does the actual homeless." I would guarantee you that homeless people are bothered more by their homelessness that the poor people of Oregon who have to look at them occasionally.
katesisco (usa)
@Sean Oh, WOW!
Stephanie (NYC)
If any one of the 1%, America's multi billionaires, wanted to, they could build enough shelters to house every homeless person in America. Instead, they continue to watch their pockets get more and more filled, or they waste money creating spacecrafts, hoping to one day send the ultra rich on frivolous space adventures. It's easy to solve the homeless problem. Make some of this obscenely rich people spend their money on rehabilitation and housing. Or pay someone's medical bills. They'd still have plenty left over to live there lavish lifestyles and ensure that their children can also live the same wasteful lives.
sguknw (Colorado)
It seems to me every article on homelessness avoids an obvious problem: the homeless problem in the United States is never going away if the country allows unlimited immigration, legal and illegal. This is not just a problem of people walking across the Mexican border either. A bigger source of illegal migration is the uncontrolled problem of illegal immigrants overstaying tourist and student visas then living in overcrowded tenements. An illegal immigrant tenant is a great tenant. The landlord can ignore maintenance, crowd his property, charge ever increasing rent and the immigrant tenant can’t complain to anyone. A one-bedroom apartment with 10 people living in it is then not available to a single disabled person or couple whose only alternative is to sleep in a public park. Building more housing for the benefit of rotten landlords and illegal immigrants solves no problem.
JA (Mi)
@sguknw, this is not even related to homelessness. none of them are illegal immigrants in this article. nice way to try to scapegoat the wrong people.
Rose (Seattle)
@JA : The issue isn't that it's undocumented and/or documented immigrants who are homeless, though certainly some of the homeless population fall into that category. This issue is that there is an acute shortage of housing -- and a growing population (due in part to immigration) is making it worse. The housing shortage is hard to address. Building materials are scarcer and more expensive than ever before, in part due to the staggering quantity of rebuilds needed after climate-related disasters (fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.). There's also a shortage of skilled labor. Solving the housing problem is going to take approaching the problem from a lot of different angles: limiting population growth, rebuilding in less disaster-prone areas, training people in building skills, and maybe also taxing the wealthy to raise funds.
sguknw (Colorado)
@Rose I agree with you completely.
C. Schwinbarger (California)
I live in San Francisco on a street in the Hayes Valley near Market Street. We have a closed school at the end of the block so no one is watching when people show up and shoot up and pass out. Two days a go I saw a man sitting on cardboard across the street when I ran to Walgreens for cat litter. when I came back ten minutes later he was pulling his pants up after defecating between two parked cars. He looked mindless. We had a man on the sidewalk here a month ago screaming high on drug with garbage overflowing from bags that he had brought with him. The police came, looked at him and left leaving him behind for us to listen to. There is a young mother with an infant upstairs. On New Year's Day a city truck and employee showed to shovel that garbage off the sidewalk. Last Sunday a truck showed up at 7:30 AM to shovel feces off the street in front. It is expensive for the city, and for the citizens it abrades any sense of sympathy you once had. Yes there are homeless people. But too many of the people on the sidewalk are just skid row bums, as our parents called them, allowed to park themselves wherever they want. Welcome to 2020. But if you live on a hill your safe. They can't climb hills apparently. So we get them all.
JA (Mi)
@C. Schwinbarger, go to India, the streets are full of people who live outside like this. if we do not stop the growing wealth and geographic inequality, we'll end up just like India.
sguknw (Colorado)
@JA If the US imports the population of India (and a hundred other places) we will end up like India. The 60,000 people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles tonight deserve better. Government policy has to be take care of these people before anyone else.
tiddle (Some City)
No one wants to admit to it, but as a pathway to solving the affordable housing crisis, mixed income housing is simply not enough. In fact, the so-called affordable housing projects in most areas (eg. 40B mandate in MA) are not even that affordable at all. To entice private developers to do the projects, they have to aim for luxury condos in order to make the project worthwhile. As a result, it further accelerates the impacts of gentrification, further marginalizing renters in the same areas. And for those lucky few who get the "lottery" to squeeze into the affordable units with heavily discounted rate amidst luxury condos at substantially higher market rate, how long before these affordable units' owners will get squeezed out too because they will have to pay for property taxes too (on high assessed value). Other hopes, like philanthropy, are just that: Hope. We need far more sustainable and steady solution than that. We should drop the pretense on the private/public partnership, and have government create low-income housing projects and public transport that that truly accommodate a vastly higher potion of the homeless and low-income population. I do expect government to do a better job; I don't want to see a repeat of Cabrini-Green.
Gus (Southern CA)
In San Francisco, job loss and eviction are a whopping 39% of the reason for homelessness. In Santa Barbara County, that number is substantially higher. The government wants us to believe that drugs and mental illness are the primary causes for homelessness in America, but they aren't--high rents and greedy landlords are. Once people are sleeping outside, or in their car, it is hard to hold a job, or have any level of normalcy. There are also a large percent of senior citizens living on the streets in CA. Rather than make affordable senior housing, the government funded housing, here in Santa Barbara, goes to young drug addicts, who play the dual-diagnosis, card (addiction and depression and/or anxiety). They don't work. They don't heal. They don't contribute anything to society. Now that Trump has cut off their foods stamps, and soon their healthcare, who knows what will happen to that generation.
There for the grace of A.I. goes I (san diego)
I was homeless by choice for 5 years....and looking back Alcohol was the single biggest factor that made me rebel against following the really is worse than you can ever imagine...and We as a society are failing these people who are more than just people who made poor choices/ 25 to 40 percent are mentally Ill....and they are the ones who should right now have Top priority from the Government to Build a facility for them for letting them wander the streets is Gross Incompetence of the highest order....I Worked most of my time homeless and that was empowering....Get these homeless addicts jobs cleaning up parks and away from there party zones....Create job hiring spots next to spots where they can camp out that have restrooms / showers and a parking lot for the people who own cars to sleep safe in overnight....This Crisis can be taken care of ...but it is in need of Government leadership that GETS Things Done !
Linda Lou (New York, NY)
Job loss. Mental illness. Drug addiction. Marginalized people have few choices. I agree with the contributor who asked - but the real story is how did they again become housed?
Literati21 (The Road)
I am not homeless. I am houseless. Basho wrote: "Every day is a journey, and the journey is itself home."
ABaron (USVI)
Recounting how a few people ended up homeless without discussing how they became housed is pretty meaningless. If the writers are telling a story they seemed to have dropped everything after the introduction. What’s the point of this article?
Gary Valan (Oakland, CA)
How do we, as a society, justify shielding our eyes from this problem? we just became the richest third world country on the planet. There are so many moving parts to this problem that a single column will not do justice and multiple columns will glaze the eyes. However we can hold the "homeless industrial complex" to book. These are the federal, state and local government entities along with the private charities that are supposed to alleviate the problem. In the Bay Area we just throw money at it but no one in the public knows where the money is going and those in "the know," either don't have the power to say or just go along to get along or keep their jobs.
tiddle (Some City)
@Gary Valan, And what do you propose? Whatever happens to accountability of public officials? I'm sure everyone wants to solve the problems. Build more houses for them! Just not in my backyard! That's the NIMBY way, and it's way too prevalent even in (maybe especially in) well-to-do, liberal enclave.
drollere (sebastopol)
i understand that "putting a human face on it" is a useful journalistic maneuver, but this article isn't really helpful. focusing on the people and their personal stories biases the impression toward individual problems. there are major structural or sociological reasons for homelessness: rising housing costs, medical care debt, poor veteran health care, wildfire home destruction, legal problems, domestic violence, among many. veterans, women and children form a disproportionate part of the homeless population. this also puts a smiling face on homelessness, since these people all got in and got out. the homeless i see on the streets of SF and santa rosa, many of whom lost homes in the kincade and camp wildfires, are not so chipper. i don't object to cameos: they should be balanced with statistics that represent the overall picture.
SteveRR (CA)
"African-Americans are disproportionately affected as a result of institutional racism." Broad, unsupported, blanket statements like this do nothing to push the policy discussion forward. Here is what we know - we don't REALLY know the demographics of the homeless problem but we are getting a better idea every year. We know the vast majority of homeless folks are white We know the vast majority of homeless folks have psychiatric issues or substance abuse issue - not the dreaded oft-rumored but magical "institutional racism". If we are going to start to address homelessness the best first steps are to discuss substance abuse treatment and support for mental illness.
Zoenzo (Ryegate, VT)
@SteveRR It is not a blanket statement. Click on the highlighted text that you quoted. Racism exists and is real. Just be thankful you don't have to experience it apparently.
C. Schwinbarger (California)
@Zoenzo I live on a homeless blighted street in San Francisco near Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. I see them all. There are no black faces here except one black man shooting up in front two or three years ago. It's not a black crowd at all.
atthebrink (Oregon)
@SteveRR Agreed.
Simon Taylor (Santa Barbara, CA)
I'm surprised that divorce didn't count among the reasons why people become homeless, especially in cases where ex-spouses have dramatically asymmetrical earnings. So, to take a hypothetical case (LOL), a female breadwinner making $120K+ annually divorces her loser husband, making $15K a year, I could see how the latter could easily wind up homeless especially when, in a such a scenario, men are under-educated and embarrassed about their rights to alimony.
Dejah (Williamsburg, VA)
@Simon Taylor A more realistic case: I want to leave my abusive husband. He leaves me for another woman, takes our children away. He refuses to pay me support. He wants to force me to work. I've been disabled for a while and this is unrealistic, but he doesn't live in reality, only what he wants. I borrow from my parents to get a lawyer, to take him to court for Spousal Support. He can delay and defy and get away with it. It will be 3 years before he pays. I quickly descent into poverty. I cannot afford a lawyer. The Spousal Support order is only paper, almost impossible to enforce. He also uses the children as weapons, endangering my freedom due to child support enforcement. Child support is based on the amount of the PAPER Spousal Support order, not what he's *actually* paying. I borrow MORE money from my parents. Over 3 years, legal fees will total $$,$$$. Supporting me below the poverty level will cost them twice that. I know I'm privileged, how easy it would be to be homeless in my situation. The ONLY reason I am not homeless: My parents own my house & paid for my lawyer. I could enforce the Support order. I have at least a dozen friends on my domestic abuse support network who are NOT as privileged as I am. They do not live in a house owned by their mother. They cannot borrow money for a lawyer. They are all victims of financial abuse, same as me. At least one is now homeless. Maybe 2. The local domestic abuse shelter is always full.
None (Min)
I became homeless bc of my toxic family. I guess I can start from the beginning. We grew up with a lot of childhood trauma and yes abuse but it wasnt always being physically hurt. I basically turned into a massive people pleaser in the result of having a narcissistic mom. I worked really hard to get away from my family but it never worked. I ended up going to a college I hated due to me trying to please my mom. That made me so resentful and I started to rebel. Not only is my family narcissistic but also extremely religious so I was being forced to attend so many church services, along with being constantly torn down and my parents not understanding the pressure of being a minority at a college. I felt very misunderstood. It brought me so deep into depression I attempted suicide my last year of college. I just had enough I cldnt do it anymore. Then afterwards I went to live in a shelter bc it was the only way l wld start living my life for me and i would not have to ppl pls anymore. I stayed in the shelter for about 4-5 months. If you have your mind made up you can leave soon but i realize some ppl have mental issues so they cant or disabilities. I can't say that these past few years have been easy but I am glad I experienced these things. I am so glad I never gave up. Its temporary if you let it be. Now I am in school and pursuing my dreams and working very hard.
Tamim (Italy)
@None bro, I understand, but there is always a way open to make things right, a potential to get the most out of something. Ma bro, u couldn't do it, whatever be optimistic.
Dejah (Williamsburg, VA)
@None It's not all THAT unusual to end up homeless if you have a narcissistic parent. Been there, done that. Keep up with your studies. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Look up support groups for recovery from narcissistic mothers. It's no picnic.
C. Schwinbarger (California)
@None A lot of the homeless people who have lived on my street here in San Francisco for years at a time come from blighted homes. A blighted childhood and family are infinitely worse than losing a job or depression. But most of them here are tied to the street by needles. The needles litter the sidewalks here in San Francisco. The city (and I voted for it back in the day) hands them free out of one door and they are injected and tossed everywhere by the addicts. I saw a couple of young white twenty somethings, probably homeless but away from their bedding, on Market Street yesterday shooting up in doorway. It is that in your face everywhere here. And oh yeah, the middle aged men stupefied by drugs and standing around on the sidewalks, here and there, bent over at the waist with their heads touching the ground in front of them for God knows how long while our locals rush by staring at their smart phones.
Calleen Mayer (FL)
In the early 70's due to my father's alcoholism, our water, heat got shut off regularly (in MN winter's) and if it would n't of been for grandparents we'd never of gotten clothing, bedding and food. I am so grateful for them. I help out my family where I can., ut the addiction gene is deep and to them I decline helping out the parents, not the kids.
Yep (Florida)
No one is exempt from becoming homeless. A tragedy or a stream of bad decisions and we can find ourselves sleeping under the stars. But staying homeless is a choice. Its entirely up to the individual to better themselves and get back on their feet.
Hugh Massengill (Eugene Oregon)
Poverty creates homelessness. There is no more addiction in the ranks of the poor than of the rich. There are no more emotionally disabled people in the ranks of the poor than of the rich. When you are rich and have a financial cushion from family money, you don't live in a tent. You may not be able to hold a job or sustain a relationship, but you have stocks and cash and you live decently. No, writing as one who lived on the street and in Rescue Mission for years, when you are poor and you try to live in a city where the rents are insane, you are not safe, ever. Just thought it was worth mentioning, as it is an easy rationalization to look at the very poor and blame them for their lives of terrible desperation. My experience taught me that the vulnerable, the people who had trouble in school or in the military, had nowhere to land when push came to shove. Think all those people living under bridges in the Great Depression were mentally ill or addicted to whatever? Of course not, the economy didn't need them, and so they precipitated out of the economy in despair. I hate capitalism for I saw what it did to the poor and the powerless that it didn't need, for after all, someone in China or Mexico was more useful to the corporate machine. But hey, just build some more huge institutions to lock up the poor, drug them with mind numbing drugs, like in the 1950's and 1960's. That sure seems to be what is coming. Hugh
human (Roanoke, VA)
A couple of years ago, my wife and I convinced a homeless person to move in with us and be part of our family. He is now closer to us than our relatives. Rehabilitating him has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of our lives. This past year, we 'rescued' another person before she slid into homelessness, by providing her with financial, logistical and emotional assistance. The eye-opener is really very simple - if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Dejah (Williamsburg, VA)
@human I had a friend who did this. She took in a homeless couple with a very sad story. I counseled her against doing so. I said once she took them in, she would not be able to evict them, they would have a legal right to reside in her home. It could even be dangerous. he would be wiser to connect them to community resources. As it turned out, the husband was seriously mentally ill with Bipolar I and substance abuse. The wife was a pathological liar and (probably) had a personality disorder. They completely tore my friend's life apart. Due to the toxic chaos these people created, her husband lost his job. They endangered her children. My friend lost her home. Only with the foreclosure would their "guests" leave. There was a reason they were homeless. --- Years later, I took in a young homeless couple myself. I knew them both for 2 years. I was well aware that the young man was mentally ill as was his young GF. But she was 5 months pregnant. Her parents had thrown her out. They were living... in Walmart, in February. He was a hard worker. He immediately got a job at Taco Bell. He worked to get them on an even keel. It wasn't the best situation. It was a crowded house. It put way too much stress on my family. They left a few months later, just before her baby was born. They stayed another year with the other family, then got Section 8 housing. Eventually they divorced. Grandma has custody of their children. It was the right thing to do at the time, tho.
Usok (Houston)
If we know all the answers on how do people become homeless, can we solve the problems? However, we do know some answers. Can we do something about it? Don't say that we don't have the money. We do.
drollere (sebastopol)
@Usok - the experiment has been tried several times, and it turns out to be less costly to the public budget to give the homeless housing than to leave them on the streets.
Greenie (Vermont)
"However, African-Americans are disproportionately affected as a result of institutional racism." You make this statement but why? Do you have any proof that this is so? What exactly are you referring to? Are you saying that blacks don't become homeless for the same reasons that whites or others do such as job loss, drug/alcohol use, mental illness, evictions etc?
jack (usa)
@Greenie If you know what institutionalized racism means, there is no need for further explanation. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means that black people in America are disadvantaged in all our institutions. They attend inferior schools, receive inferior health care, are given worse terms on loans (from mortgages to credit cards), they are hired and promoted less than white people, they are convicted more frequently and serve longer terms than whites convicted of the same crimes. The list goes on. It is easy enough to find plenty of information about any of these topics on the internet, and right here in the Times archives. These disadvantages position them for an easier fall into homelessness, or even other problem like substance abuse, that might lead to homelessness.
C. Schwinbarger (California)
@Greenie Apart from one loud black tweaker in front of our building 6 months ago and a black man trying to shoot up several years ago we are surrounded by white homeless people. Why is that if racism is the cause? Looking for answers in all the warm and tried places. That's what it sounds like here.
Darin (Sacramento)
Excuse me, but isn't Katie Sowers the first openly gay and *openly* female coach? We have no idea how many transwomen have coached in the NFL and have felt totally compelled to keep their true selves a secret because of the machismo culture that pervades so many aspects of the league (and football generally). That "openly" is sort of an important qualifier you left out, I hope it wasn't intentional and originating from a place of bigoted transphobia.
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