Teresa Pennsylvania

Homeless and Hopeless

Ending homelessness in America needs to become a priority.



adjective (of a person) without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets

Dear Future President,

Can you imagine what it must be like to live without a home? Struggling to survive in constant worry of finding a place to spend the next night? Never having quite enough money to afford a meal or a warm blanket? Can you imagine spending week after week trying to eke out an existence, sustaining yourself on only spare change and scraps of food? If that is too hard to imagine, you need only to step out onto the streets of your cities, populated by people dressed in the tattered remnants of their best clothes. Children cling onto last fragments of innocence, too young to give up, too young to even start fighting, but already panhandling for coins, for food, for anything. Streets filled with old men without a single thing left for them in life, skin wrinkled like layers of a story, eyes empty and hollow like they’ve been forced to see too much. War veterans who hold up hand-lettered, painstakingly written cardboard signs that say “HELP PLEASE,” with an empty coffee cup and a battered suitcase at their feet. Young people who sleep wrapped up in a stolen sleeping bag, or in a graffitied subway station, or on a deserted park bench. Can you imagine that being your life?

Homelessness may be defined simply as a person without a home, but the reality is much harsher. At this very moment, there are more than half a million Americans who are going without eating or a place to sleep. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, about 564,708 people in our country alone find themselves homeless on any given night. Over the past year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 1.56 million Americans have experienced some sort of acute homelessness, and only one in four of those people receive any form of government help.

Out of those one and a half million or so citizens, 33% are youth under the age of 24. The future of our lives, of our country, depends on these young people, and we are sitting by and watching them suffer. In addition to young people, it is estimated that about 49,933 veterans are homeless in America. People who have risked their lives--risked everything--for the good of our country are being denied the basic rights of shelter and food. In fact, 40% of homeless veterans-- that’s about 19,973 people-- do not have any sort of roof above their head at all. The facts speak for themselves: homelessness is directly linked to the next generation of our country, as well as to the people who put their lives at stake for us overseas.

In addition to affecting youth and veterans, homelessness has an even greater impact on the welfare of society. About a fifth of America’s homeless population suffers from untreated mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. Not surprisingly, mental illness only serves to prolong homelessness; an estimated 66 percent of homeless adults live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. This leads only to desperation and self-medication, which ultimately causes substance abuse and/or addiction. Because of this, hospitalization and incarceration rates for homeless people are much higher than that of a citizen. The only problem is that most of our country’s homeless population cannot afford healthcare, so they have no way of improving their physical and mental health. Since homeless people are often denied the basic right of healthcare, they are forced to go back to their on-the-streets lifestyle, and may be more likely to end up in trouble with the law. A study done by Martell, Rosner, and Harmon on Criminal Behavior by Mentally Ill Homeless Persons states that prison inmates who had been homeless made up 15.3% of the U.S. jail population. Eliminating homelessness would not only improve the lives of millions of people, but it would also assist our country in dropping incarceration rates and making great strides in our war on drugs.

Even without mental health issues, many homeless people still find themselves facing federal charges for just doing their best to survive. In fact, as of 2014, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that 24% of US cities make it a city-wide crime to beg in public, 33% make it illegal to loiter, 18% make it illegal to sleep in a public place, 43% make it illegal to sleep in your car, and 53% make it illegal to sit or lie down in public places, such as the sidewalk. With all of those restrictions taken into account, there are hardly many more options for the homeless to resort to. Homeless shelters are a great resource, but unfortunately, due to a lack of government funding, over one-eighth of the country’s low-income housing has been lost since 2001.

Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Although it may not seem like it, every citizen in the country is at a much greater risk of becoming homeless than they may believe. A common belief is that everyone who lives on the streets is unemployed, but in reality, up to 25% of the homeless people in our country have a job. Based on a study done by the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 46.2 million Americans that hold jobs are currently living below the national poverty line- that’s more than 15% of our citizens living on less than twelve dollars a day. Even working at the minimum wage of $7.25, a family of three will still be approximately 3,000 dollars below the poverty line. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that 3.5 million people will find themselves homeless at some point in a given year because of rent or mortgage problems. That number is disturbingly high.

Because of this, I implore you to make ending homelessness and poverty in our country a priority. This can be done through the continuation and extension of already implemented programs such as The United States Interagency council on Homelessness’ Opening Doors plan, and through White House organizations such as the 100 Day Challenge to End Youth Homelessness. As proven above, most cases of homelessness stem from our citizens not being able to afford the cost of living, or from the lack of a well-paying job. This can be addressed through the establishment of a multitude of job-training programs or through the increase of funds appropriated to establishing homeless shelters and providing food stamps and welfare for the homeless. No matter what course of action you chose to take, I beg you not to forget the homeless. Try to imagine yourself in their place. Try to make things better.


Teresa L.

Bala Cynwyd Middle School

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