homeless man sitting next to a grocery cart filled with his possessions

Basic Facts About Homelessness

The homelessness crisis in Los Angeles is described as a national disgrace. The Los Angeles Times has described what historically had been center stage of homelessness in the city:

There are few sights in the world like nighttime in skid row, the teeming Dickensian dystopia in downtown Los Angeles where homeless and destitute people have been concentrated for more than a century.

Homeless in Los Angeles, as is the case in many locations in the United States, has burst through traditional borders. Homelessness is no longer a problem found in LA’s Skid Row. Rather, homeless individuals and homeless encampments can be found everywhere in the greater Los Angeles area. As the Los Angeles Times made clear, “no matter where you live in L.A. County, from Long Beach to Beverly Hills to Lancaster, you cannot credibly claim today to be unaware of the squalid tent cities, the sprawling encampments, or the despair and misery on display there.”

There exists a myriad of underlying causes for homelessness across the United States in this day and age. With that in mind, there are some primary underlying causes underpinning homelessness in the country today.

Primary Underlying Causes of Homelessness

There are some primary underlying causes for homelessness in Los Angeles, throughout Southern California, and in the United States more generally. These underlying causes are seen time and again when examining the homeless population in any community in the United States.

Housing Costs and Stock

A major reason why the number of homeless people in Los Angeles and throughout California is on the rise is because of the cost of housing coupled with availability of affordable housing options. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the housing wage nationally has risen to $21.21 per hour. The housing wage in most Los Angeles area communities is going to be higher than the national average.

The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Many states do have minimum wages higher than this amount. However, some states tie their minimum wage to the national amount. Thus, for some people, the difference between the housing wage and minimum wage is dramatic: $13.96 an hour.

An associated issue is the limited availability of affordable housing stock. This is a persistent and profound problem throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Some communities are undertaking initiatives to increase the availability of more affordable housing. However, even in those locales, these types of initiatives are only making a dent in the overall problem.

Poverty

The issue of poverty has already been touched on to some degree in the general discussion of housing costs and affordable housing stock. Despite the pronouncements of many politicians, the poverty rate in the United States is significant. The U.S. Census Bureau advised that the U.S. poverty rate is 12.7 percent. There are 40.6 million people in the United States living in poverty.

12.7%. There were 40.6 million people in poverty. While the poverty rate has been slowly declining since 2014, a couple of factors account for continuing poverty: Over the past several years, the poverty rate has declined incrementally, some would say insignificantly.

Healthcare

The lack of affordable healthcare represents another significant contributing factor to homelessness in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States. When a family already struggles to pay rent, a major health issue can lead them into homelessness in short speed.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence represents a significant contributing cause to homelessness in Los Angeles and across the state and country. 50 percent of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors list domestic violence as a primary underlying cause of homelessness.

Domestic violence pits a woman against choosing between living in an abusive relationship with a roof over her head against leaving the situation and entering a world of poverty, perhaps even homelessness.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is a contributing factor when it comes to homelessness. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates about 16 percent of the adult homeless population has a persistent mental illness. Many others who analyze homelessness contend this percentage is even higher.

An important consideration to bear in mind is that while some mentally ill people become homeless, some homeless people become mentally ill. In other words, there are many situations in which homelessness results in the decline of a person’s psychological health, resulting in some type of mental illness.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

Finally, one of the primary underlying causes of homelessness is substance abuse and addiction. Although many people laboring under substance abuse and addiction issues don’t end up on the streets, a notable percentage do become homeless as their drug use spirals out of control.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Woitunski.