Homelessness is a condition of people who lack regular access to adequate housing. As this condition becomes a growing problem in Canada people are forced to deal with the issues. Who are the homeless? They range from children to adults and even in some cases, families. Why are they homeless? Poverty, lack of jobs or well paying jobs, decline in Social Services, domestic violence, mental illness, and chemical dependency contribute to the majority of the homeless within our society. What effects does being homeless have on members of the family? It contributes to many physical and mental health problems for both parents and their children. Homelessness is a world-wide issue, yet zeroing in on Canada, the majority of the homeless live on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver where they seek shelter anywhere from a park bench to dark alleys. The fact remains that homelessness will always be a problem yet over the years, the number of homeless people has been on the rise and something must be done. Homelessness, specially in families, is a devastating experience. It disturbs nearly all aspects of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members. In addition, it interferes with children’s education and development and often results in the separation of family members. It is hard to say exactly who the homeless are because it is usually a temporary circumstance and not a permanent condition.
Therefore more appropriate manner of estimating homelessness is to look at the number of people who are currently experiencing homelessness rather than the number of “homeless people”.
WHO ARE THE HOMELESS
Homeless people range anywhere from 11 to 65 years of age. Most studies show that homeless adults are most likely to be male that female. The homeless population is made up many different ethnic backgrounds, the majority being African-American. The majority of homeless children and females are victims of domestic violence (NCH, 1998). It is estimated that there are 200 000 homeless people who live on the streets of Canada (Globe and Mail, 1998) and an 80 000 more in risk of becoming homeless (National Post, 1998). Of these people between 30% and 35% are people with severe mental illnesses (National Post, 1998). “On any given night, 45% of the 4 200 people filling Toronto’s homeless shelters are families with children” (Toronto Star, 1998). An increasing number of the homeless are teenagers of which many are runaways who have been kicked out or felt they had no choice but to leave (Michaud, Margaret, 1988). It is difficult to find out exactly what age categories the homeless fit into because the information is very limited.
WHY THEY ARE HOMELESS
There is so many different causes of homelessness the largest being poverty (NCH, 1998). Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, health care and child care. It is hard to make choices when recourses are so limited. Unemployment is also a large contribution to the homeless society (NCH, 1998). Another factor contributing to homelessness is the decline in Social Services. Within the last few years, government has made it increasingly difficult for anyone to be approved to get assistance. There is also the factors of domestic violence which forces many out of their home, mental illness which enables the individuals to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services, and chemical dependency which forces people into poverty because of their addiction (NCH, 1998). It is hard to give specific percentage data supporting cases of unemployment, domestic abuse, chemical dependants, and decreasing Social Services because the data is rather difficult to find.
EFFECTS OF HOMELESSNESS ON PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Homelessness severely impacts the health and well-being of every family member. Compared to poor children that are housed, children that are homeless
experience worse health; more developmental delays; more anxiety, depression, some behavioural problems; and lower educational achievement (NCH, 1998).
Furthermore, homeless children face obstacles to enrolling and attending school. Some of these difficulties include transportation problems, residency requirements, inability to obtain previous school records, and lack of clothing and school supplies. Parents also feel the harsh effects of homelessness. Homeless females tend to have chronic depression more frequently than housed females. Homeless mothers are also much more likely