Homelessness in the United States of America
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shelter falls into the category of physiological needs – the most basic and fundamental things required for humans to survive. Shelter is of vital importance and a significant piece of the puzzle when considering the well-being of the mind, body, and spirit. Due to the essentiality of housing, of concern is the increasing unaffordability of shelter, interfaced with the reality touted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which is that as of 2022, at least 582,000 Americans were unhoused, an increase of 2,000 people since 2020. Being without a home is a problem that is increasingly on the rise, especially with the costs to be housed at an all-time high.
Homelessness and Health
Just above physiological needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy are safety needs, inclusive of health. Health challenges among the unhoused are prevalent due to:
Homelessness and the Periphery
While being unhoused is an issue with respect to accessibility, covering, and health, in addition to lack of physical location, those without homes exist on or outside of the periphery of society as well. Homelessness does not just encompass the absence of a set place of residence, but also carries and falls into a category often labeled as, “less than,” by a society which does not just include the unhoused, but the impoverished, incarcerated, etc. Bridget Deschenes states, “People experiencing homelessness are often marginalized. This stems from a power differential between those that have housing, and those who do not.” This power differential shows up in a way that enforces democracy working against the unhoused, instead of for. The invisible line drawn in the sand between those with shelter and those without shows up in housing, health, career, community, accessibility, decision-making, family, equity, and much more.
In order to decrease the divide, we must consider implementing interventions that have the ability to help rather than harm. Those interventions are inclusive of, but not limited to: housing, income/rental assistance, harm reduction, sensitivity training, access to clinics, mental health support, support networks, etc. Also, it is important that as a society, we move from a system-centered approach to a person-centered approach. A system-centered approach reinforces the unhoused on the periphery which is marginalization, particularly if mistakes are punitive in nature and cause continued homelessness and/or marginalization. A person-centered approach assists people in moving beyond being unhoused in a way that ideally lessens disenfranchisement and perhaps even creates space and intentional opportunity for recovery.
As we close in on the 2023 holiday season where people often think more about those who are unhoused, provide blessing bags, help out in soup kitchens, offer meals, etc., may we continue to actively seek ways in which we can support, shift mindset, petition government, and not just invite but intentionally create and develop space for the those whom society has placed on the periphery to come in closer.
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