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Number of U.S. homeless on the rise

The homeless population in the United States has been on the rise for some time and government aid is not helping much with the problem. It is concerning to see this in the most obese nation in the world with a population of approximately 12 million.

In 2000, 11.3 percent of the U.S. population, or 31.1 million people, lived in poverty, and families have become the largest and fastest growing segment of the homeless population. In 1997 a survey showed that one in five people in a soup kitchen were children. The survey also states that approximately 12 million children were hungry or at risk of living in hunger.

An important question to pose when faced with a problem such as homelessness is how people initially become homeless. A primary reason for homelessness is eroding job opportunities. Contributing to this reason is the factor of stagnant or falling incomes as well as less job security, which offers fewer benefits. The distance between the rich and poor has grown and has hit low-wage workers particularly hard.

Another factor contributing to homelessness is the declining quality and availability of public assistance. Until its repeal in 1996, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. The program that replaced this, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, provides benefits below the poverty level in every state. While these programs try to give aid, they barely make a difference at all.

A lack of low-income housing and a limited amount of affordable housing assistance programs have also contributed to people living hungry or without homes. Over the past 30 years, 2.2 units of low-income housing disappeared from the market and from 1991 to 1995, median rental costs rose 21 percent. A response to this situation has lead to many people living in one place, and overcrowding has caused even more people to be homeless. Government grants also have holes within them, where for every dollar spent on housing $4 is spent on taxes. With situations as difficult as they are, it is a serious concern the government has planned so poorly.

All of these problems contributing to homelessness pile up on top of one another, yet they are only a part of the problem. Lack of affordable health care can make one health problem in a poverty stricken family move that family onto the streets. Domestic violence has also put many on the streets, where a family member chooses living without housing over being in an abusive living situation. Mental illnesses and addiction disorders are also problems in which the homeless need help, yet many hospitals are difficult to access or do not allow access for people in such situations.

While this type of problem currently plagues Americans, it is surprising so little is being done. The system that is in place promotes the homeless to stay within their situation and do the best they can to survive. Considering that the environment and the individuals making that environment have been in a vicious cycle of homelessness for some time now, it is certain changes must be made.

Looking at the main American population, it is surprising there is nothing in terms of relocation or education being done for these people. By living in the same environment that homelessness was created and not being educated about how to escape it, it is logical that the problem will persist.

Considering many homeless people are not staying in the area they are living because they enjoy it, it makes sense to organize a program that will help them get back on their feet for good. In a relatively short transition period, perhaps it would be beneficial for the homeless to be taken to a place outside of the places they inhabit where they can be educated and given a fresh start. These, of course, may be lofty dreams, but with the proper support from the country that helped create their situations, perhaps through rejuvenation and education actual changes can be made to make a difference in their lives.

Patrick Barbera, The Daily Campus, University of Connecticut.