Homeless Population

Historical Overview

In the 1640s, homelessness was seen as a moral deficiency, a character flaw. If one found themselves homeless in the 1600s, a person or family would come upon a town and would have to prove their ‘worth’ to the community’s fathers. If not, they would be on the not so merry way to the next town or hamlet. Today, those experiencing homelessness has nothing to do with a person’s intrinsic worth. Homelessness is a complex social issue with many variables. Unfortunately, for those experiencing homelessness, the impact of the values of the 1640s are still pervasive (“History of homelessness”, 2014). A homeless individual is defined as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing. “A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation (“Definition of homelessness,” n.d.).


There are many factors that increase risks of being homeless; factors such as lack of affordable housing; poverty; lack of employment opportunities; decline in available public assistance; lack of affordable health care; domestic violence; mental illness; and addiction. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or paycheck away from living on the streets (“Why are people homeless,” n.d.). Finding a safe location to spend the night is particularly challenging for homeless people. If the individual has a storage unit containing some of their few possessions, they may find shelter in this typically small room. Storage unit locations often have policies to discourage homeless people from spending the night, but can provide some safety for them. Some homeless individuals have either a car or sufficient money for a motel. Most parking areas do not allow any particular car to stay in one location for an extended amount of time, so the homeless person must be able to move the vehicle with some regularity. This can be challenging for those without sufficient funds to maintain the vehicle. Tent cities are typically formed by a group of homeless individuals who come together to shelter under ten structures. In some areas, these tent cities are well known, but in some places, the public may be unaware of their existence. Some of the most dangerous locations for homeless people include public streets, city parks and abandoned buildings. Individuals staying in these places are most vulnerable, and in many areas, local law enforcement prevents them from staying for an extended period (“Where Do Homeless Sleep,” n.d.). Other places that I have personally seen homeless people sleep at are on Chicago “L”, which they are encountered more in the morning hours.


Homelessness increases the risk of developing health problems such as diseases of the extremities and skin disorders; it increases the possibility of trauma, especially because of physical assault or rape. Other health problems that may result from or that are commonly associated with homelessness include malnutrition, parasitic infestations, dental and periodontal disease, degenerative joint diseases, venereal diseases, hepatic cirrhosis secondary to alcoholism, and infectious hepatitis related to intravenous (IV) drug abuse (“Health Problems”, 1988). Mental illness can contribute to homelessness when symptoms become so severe that the person cannot function. He or she might be so disorganized as to be unable to maintain a job (and thus pay rent or make house payments). Also, specific symptoms of mental health disorders, such as the manic state of bipolar disorder or the psychotic symptoms and paranoia of schizophrenia (paranoia, though, isn’t always present in schizophrenia) can not only make it hard to work or care for oneself but can also severely isolate the person when others don’t know what to do (“Mental Illness and Homelessness,” n.d.). Homelessness can contribute to mental illness because of the severe distress caused by living on the streets. Homelessness is traumatic, and as such can lead to PTSD. Depression, too, often develops when people live on the streets, as can other mental illnesses. If someone is vulnerable to mental illness, either from environmental or genetic factors, homelessness is very likely to lead to mental illness. (“Mental Illness and Homelessness,” n.d.). Alcohol is one of the most common substances of abuse in homeless populations, especially in older adults, notes the National Coalition for the Homeless. It is estimated that up to half of single homeless adults have abused alcohol, while up to a third abuse other drugs, according to the National Healthcare for the Homeless. Heroin is one of the most commonly abused opioid drugs among homeless individuals, many of whom take the drug intravenously. Intravenous drug abuse, especially with shared needles, exposes the user to the risk of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. (“Addiction among the homeless population,” n.d.)

Social Treatment Recommendation

From my encounters with homeless, and seeing many in the community, many are ignored, but still noticed. Citizens in the community just go about their daily lives, like homeless individuals do not exist. It’s almost as though they are viewed as a virus in society, or that kid in school that everyone thinks is weird and has cooties. My encounters on the train with homeless individuals are them requesting something simple as like a nickel, quarter or dime that will eventually build up to buy food or whatever. Many encounters in my neighborhood are the same. An article I read by Michael Sullivan, who experienced being homeless himself stated “I was conditioned at a very young age to view all homeless people as worthless alcoholics and drug addicts. They were not human – they were thugs and murderers and a burden to society.” Michael also mentioned in the article how he gave mocking stares that told the homeless person that he or she wasn’t fit to move about normally in society. That was until he received the mocking stares himself as a homeless individual (Sullivan, 2011).


In conclusion, I realized that not all homeless living on the streets are drug or alcohol addicts. Many may have been drug or alcohol addicts while experiencing poverty, which may have resulted in them being homeless, but how does one buy drugs or alcohol when they have no money is what I realized. I do realize that there may be some individuals that manage to get ahold of drugs, even at the homeless level. The real issue is having a drug or alcohol addiction and becoming homeless, with no knowledge of getting help whatsoever. Those are the individuals that really need the most focus, and what if they have experienced multiple risk factors resulting in them being homeless; not to mention the mental and physical issues they experience while being homeless.










What is the official definition of homelessness? (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.nhchc.org/faq/official-definition-homelessness/

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Health Care for Homeless People. (1988, January 01). Health Problems of Homeless People. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218236/

Mental Illness and Homelessness – Mental Illness Overview – Other Info. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/mental-illness-and-homelessness/

Where Do Homeless Sleep? (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.portlandrescuemission.org/get-involved/learn/where-do-homeless-sleep/

The History of Homelessness in America 1640s to present. (2014, March 17). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.dceh.org/the-history-of-homelessness-in-america-1640s-to-present/

Sullivan, M. (2011, January 26). I was homeless; ‘the look’ judged me worthless. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/01/26/sullivan.homeless.writer/

Homelessness in America. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://nationalhomeless.org/about-homelessness/

Addiction Among The Homeless Population. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from http://sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics/homeless-population/


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