What Do Homeless People Need?

26 June 2023


IMANA understands that homelessness is an urgent issue with no easy answers. The 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that around 582,000 Americans experienced homelessness in 2022. This adds up to around 18 out of every 10,000 people.

With such a significant percentage of the population finding themselves without homes, the issue is an urgent epidemic that needs to be addressed. After all, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) considers adequate housing a fundamental human right

So, what do homeless people need? This post takes a deeper look into homelessness, its causes, the basic needs of those experiencing it, and its long-term solutions.

Understanding the Leading Causes of Homelessness

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), high rent and growing unemployment are major causes of homelessness.

However, there are also contributing factors surrounding the issue:

Lack of Affordable Housing

The nation is currently undergoing a lack of affordable housing crisis. This means that there aren’t enough rental options for those who belong to the nation’s lowest income bracket.

With over 41.4 million individuals living below the poverty line, the lack of affordable housing is leading to rampant homelessness.

Low Income

The pace at which housing costs are increasing is disproportionate to the rise in wages. Generally, wage rates have been stagnant over the last three decades while the cost of living has significantly gone up. 

This has made it difficult for individuals to afford houses, especially since landlords often require lessees to pay thrice the amount of the monthly rent in security deposits and advances before accepting rental applications.

Discrimination Against Minorities and Marginalized Groups

Discrimination against minorities and marginalized groups is also a prevailing cause of homelessness. Here are some statistics that illustrate it:

  • Eighty-nine percent of people experiencing homelessness are  Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
  • One out of four youths coming from foster care faces homelessness within four years after aging out of the system.
  • Domestic abuse survivors also face significant risks of homelessness due to discrimination and other factors.

People who belong to these groups have a much higher risk of becoming homeless.

What Are the Basic Needs of Homeless People?

Affordable housing is obviously the primary requirement of homeless people. But, what do homeless people need most beyond it? 

In addition to shelter, homeless people need:

  • Socks
  • Food
  • Pet food
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Gift cards and transportation passes
  • Rain gear
  • Warm clothing
  • Blankets
  • Protection against violence and discrimination
  • Medication 
  • Access to healthcare

To minimize homelessness, governments must improve societal conditions in ways that address the root causes of the problem. This may entail (but isn’t limited to) providing certain protections for tenants — such as rent control policies and more rigorous eviction processes — to help them remain in their homes.

Access To Healthcare and Medication for Homeless People

Homelessness goes beyond a lack of housing. It can severely impact the health and wellness of people experiencing it. 

A study published by the National Library of Medicine revealed that the homeless frequently experience poor physical health and premature death because of limited access to healthcare. 

Furthermore, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS are more prevalent in homeless people, particularly due to substance abuse and high-risk sexual practices. This is because drugs often become a coping mechanism for homeless people while some may resort to sex work due to lack of employment.

In addition to these challenges, homelessness can lead to a decline in mental health. In fact, homeless people are twice as likely to encounter mental health issues compared to those with stable housing. Forty-seven percent of homeless women meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder diagnosis.  

Declining mental and physical health can cause problems in education and employment, thereby increasing a homeless person’s vulnerability. This can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness, poor health, and lack of employment opportunities. 

Eventually, their living conditions can result in death. Many homeless individuals die by suicide.

Ultimately, homelessness can have dire consequences on the health and well-being of people who experience it. These consequences can have a long-term impact on their health even if they are able to find proper housing later on.

Education and Employment as Tools for Eradicating Homelessness

Education and employment may be elusive for homeless individuals in some instances, particularly due to the social stigma associated with their situation. However, access to education and employment can be extremely effective in addressing homelessness.

Youth that lack a high school diploma or a General Educational Development Test (GED) are 346% more likely to experience homelessness than those who graduated from high school. This is because a high school diploma is a minimum qualification for certain jobs and impacts the pay scale.

Moreover, better employment opportunities can significantly help homeless individuals secure housing. This is because homeless people are often unemployed or underemployed at disproportionately higher rates than those with secure housing. Homelessness can make it even more difficult for people to find jobs as it decreases their employability.

Thus, it is important to improve employment and education opportunities to address and eradicate homelessness. However, employment alone is not enough to completely solve the issue. Policymakers and communities must take a thorough look at aspects and complications that are leading to homelessness and identify systemic and long-lasting solutions.

Long-Term Solution for Homelessness

What do homeless people need? Obviously, they need shelter and aid. However, these would only provide short-term, micro-level solutions. For large-scale, long-term change, it’s important to address the root cause of homelessness — income disparity, lack of affordable housing, and more equitable access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.

The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) is committed to making a difference in the lives of homeless people. As a healthcare organization, we offer free clinics to the public. Though we cannot eliminate homelessness on our own, we hope that our efforts will help spread awareness while providing healthcare access to those who need it most.

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