Free Essays on Homelessness Cause And Effect

There are numerous individual factors (i.e., inadequacies and short-comings), which some social commentators claim have also had an effect on the rise of homelessness over the past twenty years. Chief among the factors most often cited are alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, the rise in dysfunctional and single mother families, and general laziness and lack of initiative among certain segments of the population. Indeed, some intellectuals have posited that an intergenerational "culture of poverty" can explain on an individual level why American society continues to be characterized by a relatively high rate of poverty and homelessness.

free essay on Causes of Homelessness in America

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FREE Homelessness Cause And Effect Essay

This dilemma ultimately speaks to one of the central issues of contemporary homelessness in America. That is, what should be the goal of policies aimed at dealing with homelessness in America, and what are the most effective methods of achieving that goal? While ultimately there is no "right" answer to these questions given the diverse causes and needs of the homeless population, any significant progress in resolving them depends upon a collective response on the part of all American citizens. Only in this way will it be possible to truly provide the type of social activism and national "continuum of care" that is necessary to combat the continuing problem of homelessness in America today.

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Next, some suggest that mental illness among individuals has effected the rise in the number of homeless people in America. Clearly, the structural problems created by de-institutionalization and similar policies throughout the 1980s are at the root of this assessment. As Jencks notes, the mental health policies of limiting involuntary commitment and allowing state hospitals to discharge patients with nowhere to go were a complete disaster. Indeed, in 1987, 100,000 working-age Americans with mental problems so severe that they could not hold a job were homeless. 37 On an individual basis, however, there is some merit to this claim. Clinicians who examine the homeless today "usually conclude that about a third have 'severe' mental disorders."38 People with these types of disorders may break off contact with the mental health system and friends and relatives who helped them deal with public agencies. In addition, they are usually incapable of finding work, receiving their social benefits, and generally dealing with the myriad of complex issues that are thrown up by homelessness. As a result, the argument goes, while structural forces may have thrown mental patients into the streets, their mental illness certainly contributed to the rise of homelessness in the 1 980s by keeping them permanently bound there.

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The Causes of Homelessness in America

Since homelessness is largely about poverty, therefore, we can attribute some of its structural causes to this late twentieth century, capitalist economic predicament. But what are the specific economic reasons for the rise in homelessness within the framework of these general contemporary conditions of poverty? And what additional structural problems account for homelessness in America today?

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First, while alcohol abuse has existed in American society throughout the twentieth century, the argument suggests that transformations in the illicit drug market in the 1 980s qualitatively altered the impact substance abuse has had on the lives of the poor. The arrival of crack in the mid-1980s offered poor people a cheap alternative to alcohol, "making the pleasures of cocaine available to people who had very little cash and were likely to spend it on the first high they could afford."34 Indeed, Jencks estimates that by 1991, around 30% of all homeless single adults used crack regularly.35 The relationship of crack (and heavy drugs more generally) to homelessness is two-fold. First, homelessness may lead to crack and drug addiction because "big-city shelters are full of crack, and so are many of the public places where the homeless gather." Second, however, heavy drug and crack use can conversely cause homelessness directly by making "marginally employable adults even less employable, eating up money that would otherwise be available to pay rent, and making their friends and relatives less willing to shelter them."36 Moreover, drug addiction and crack use helps keep the homeless on the streets, as the drugs increasingly consume most of their disposable income. Drug use, however, is in most ways a personal decision. Therefore, many people feel that the homeless who do abuse alcohol and drugs are largely responsible for their own predicament.

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