No Place Like Home
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Homelessness can strike anyone — and will be a defining issue of our time.
By Carly Stern
More than a decade after the Great Recession, the U.S. is battling twin emergencies: a housing affordability crisis and unprecedented homeless counts.Middle- and low-income Americans are the hardest hit, with extremely low-income renters — who live at or below the federal poverty level, with income of $25,750 for a family of four — facing a shortage of 7 million affordable rental homes, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Meanwhile, the country is reckoning with a public health epidemic of staggering proportions as swelling numbers of Americans are forced to live on the streets.
People fall into homelessness for a variety of reasons — whether through illness, loss of employment, domestic violence, death of a family wage earner or immigration. “No Place Like Home,” an OZY original series, captures the human faces and stories behind America’s homelessness crisis, investigates its underlying causes and spotlights viable, innovative solutions.
When CG Chen answered the phone, she was shocked to hear her friend Simon Bunyi say he was being evicted. Bunyi, 28, had been laid off. His tech job had helped him financially support his family overseas, and he had concealed how precarious his situation had become.
Chen took action, creating the nonprofit Ample Labs and in 2018 launched Chalmers, a web browser-accessible chatbot. Chalmers asks whether people need food, shelter, drop-ins, or other services before determining their location by GPS and providing addresses, even filtering for LGBTQ-friendly shelters.
The proportion of King County’s recorded homeless population that is Native American rose by two-thirds in just two years, according to this year’s point-in-time counts (PIT). These biennial counts found that although Native Americans are less than 1 percent of the county’s population, they account for 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness, up from 6 percent in 2017. While the uptick in Native American homelessness in the city seems to suggest the problem has grown, experts say it could be a matter of counting differently. Key community organizations serving Native people were more comprehensively included in the counts for the first time in 2019.
Roughly 1 in 10 students experienced homelessness in the last year, according to 2018 research by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab (now the Hope Center). This comes as more students from low-income backgrounds are enrolling in college than those from middle-class families, according to data from the National Center for Education. But a growing number of universities are developing and launching programs to fill these gaps.
America has nearly 38,000 veterans experiencing homelessness. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress that makes it hard for them to adjust in traditional homeless shelters. That’s why the Veterans Community Project (VCP) in Kansas City is building a veterans “village” — a community of furnished tiny homes, each measuring 240 square feet — meant as transitional housing for former soldiers. It’s an approach that’s catching on in cities across Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona.
More than 10 percent of older adults experiencing homelessness reported being physically or sexually assaulted in the past six months. That’s compared to the 1.6 percent of older adults in the general population who reported being victimized over the past year. Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed 350 homeless adults aged 50 and older through population-based sampling in Oakland, California. While a person’s risk of assault declines with age among those housed, this risk spikes astronomically when older people live on the streets.
This photo essay features LGBTQ youth in California participating in host homes. Through formalized programs, families provide young people with a safe, temporary and welcoming space for up to six months while they recalibrate and plan their next steps.
The legal right to shelter cherished by advocates has become a convenient excuse for slow-walking funding for building or developing affordable housing for the poorest New Yorkers, argues Deborah K. Padgett, a social work professor at New York University.
More from OZY: