Homelessness currently affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. The hardships of not having a home can cause a variety of mental and physical concerns. A new study sheds light on the extent of this deep social problem and its far-reaching consequences on people''s health and well-being.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 564,708 people in the U.S. were reported to be homeless in January 2015.
Of these, over 36 percent were families and the rest were individuals. Homelessness affects the young and elderly alike, although certain segments of the population are more vulnerable than others.
In the U.S., 15 percent of those without a home are considered to be "chronically homeless" - a term describing those with long-term or repeated homelessness, who usually have a mental or physical disability as well.
A team of researchers based in the United Kingdom looks at the causes and consequences of homelessness in London, U.K. The study sheds light on the wider problem of not having a home.
Examining the roots of a deep social problem: Researchers from the University of Sheffield - in collaboration with the Universities of Leeds and Birkbeck - examined the experience of 64 people who, at the time of the study, were either homeless or facing housing problems in Newham, London.
The university researchers teamed up with Focus E15, a campaign group run by people who, at one point in their lives, had personally been confronted with homelessness and eviction in Newham.
The researchers - led by Dr. Tom Gillespie, of the University of Sheffield, and Dr. Kate Hardy, of Leeds University Business School - interviewed people identified by Focus E15 between September 2015 and April 2016. The interviewees had either come to Newham Council for support or were living in hostels in the borough.
The study exposed some of the roots of the problem of homelessness in the U.K., as well as some of its consequences on the mental and physical well-being of those affected.
Reasons for homelessness vary and housing system is ''confusing'': In the U.S., the main reason for homelessness is reportedly the scarcity of affordable housing, although personal circumstances do vary.
In the U.K. study led by Dr. Gillespie, the reasons were also varied.
"The reasons for people becoming homeless were many and varied and often involved a combination of losing their job, cuts to social support, rent arrears, eviction, and family breakdown," says Dr. Gillespie.
Overall, however, the majority of the respondents found the complex housing system confusing and difficult to approach.
The research reports that in the past 5 years, 81 percent of those interviewed had been homeless and 73 percent had been evicted.
Most respondents were living in slum-like temporary housing at the time of the study.
Homelessness may lead to mental and physical health problems: In the U.S., 83,170 people are currently reported to be "chronically homeless." These individuals tend to have severe mental illness and substance use disorders, often in conjunction with physical illness, injury, or trauma.
In the study led by Dr. Gillespie in London, a significant number of those facing homelessness were also found to be grappling with mental and physical health problems.
The study shows that 22 percent of the respondents had a disability and that 48 percent had a general health condition. When asked about their overall health, 9 percent of the respondents reported having suicidal thoughts, and another 9 percent mentioned thoughts of self-harm.
These figures are well above the national average in the U.K., where 6 percent of adults are reported to have made a suicide attempt at one point in their lives.
Housing system puts families and women at a disadvantage: The authors note that an overwhelming proportion of those affected by homelessness were women, who are also put at a disadvantage by the housing system. Over 67 percent of respondents were female, and 59 percent of them had underage dependents. The report points out that the housing system prioritizes those who work in the labor market, but it ignores mothers who are often involved in housework and raising children.
People in temporary housing are sometimes offered long-term housing if they move away from London, which also impacts families and single mothers negatively. According to the study, 58 percent of interviewees had been offered housing outside the borough of Newham or were told to find housing themselves.
Long-term housing was offered as far away as Newcastle, Manchester, and Leeds. Relocation options included Sussex and Hertfordshire. This affects families and single mothers in particular, Dr. Hardy explains, as they are likely to make decisions based on what is best for their children''s future.