Individuals or families may be homeless for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the lack of housing, particularly affordable housing. There is no one, simple answer to this question. A number of complex conditions may exist that pose barriers to permanent housing:
Conditions in the current housing market are having a substantial negative impact on families living on limited or fixed incomes. Foreclosures are drastically increasing, and low-income renters are increasingly facing evictions or extreme rent increases.
The Triangle’s housing prices and overall cost of living are among the highest in the state, yet wages have not kept pace with costs. For those who do not have the education or skills to obtain a higher wage job, the challenges are extreme. In addition, those receiving public assistance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive a fixed amount of about $670 a month for basic needs, such as housing, food and healthcare.
Statistics tells us that many individuals and families are “one paycheck away from homelessness.” Although the poor are most at risk of homelessness, middle class families who lose the wage-earner’s income – whether due to job loss, disability, death or for other reasons – may not be able to continue monthly housing payments leading to evictions from their homes due to mortgage or rental defaults.
A large number of homeless individuals grapple with various forms of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, bipolar personality disorder, and schizophrenia are among the most common. Though not a direct cause of homelessness, poor mentally ill individuals have a lack of access to support services to secure appropriate housing or treatment.
Alcohol or drug addiction is a disease that crosses socioeconomic boundaries. However, individuals living on the edge of poverty lack the social or financial supports to address the addiction and are at a higher risk of homelessness. Addicts who are homeless often lack adequate health care, access to addiction treatment, or supportive housing, which is compounded by the stigma of addiction.
When a victim of domestic violence decides to leave an abuser, s/he is usually making the choice between personal safety and housing and financial stability. Too often, the survivor – who, more often than not, has been isolated from friends and family – is often faced by a choice of returning to the batterer or homelessness.
Any meaningful solutions to end homelessness require the resources to address the root causes of homelessness and barriers to permanent housing.
Affordable Housing is a need for homeless individuals and families across the spectrum. Government affordable housing programs, such as Section 8 or public housing, have waiting lists that are several years long. Increasing resources for such programs will help thousands of families overcome homelessness. Affordable housing initiatives should also be targeted to the families with fixed- or low-income, who are at or below 30 percent of the Area Median Income.
Homelessness prevention initiatives, such as rental assistance or support services, provide families the help they need to remain in their homes. Programs such as rental assistance provide a limited monetary assistance to cover the shortfall in rent payments, at a lower cost to taxpayers than emergency shelters. Non-financial support services for vulnerable tenants provide appropriate interventions to prevent homelessness.
Individuals and families also need access to affordable health care, including substance abuse treatment and mental health recovery services, as well as access to job training and employment assistance, designed to assist individuals and families in overcoming barriers to their homelessness.