Many people seem to believe that the homeless can be stereotyped into the panhandler, the beggar, the bum. In fact, homelessness does not seem to conform to any stereotype. It is true that many of the homeless do suffer from mental illness and addiction, but most do not. Most will never be seen or identified as homeless, and they should not be. Homelessness does not define them – it is simply a condition. The homeless among us are our neighbors, our coworkers, our family and our friends. They are victims of circumstance which have resulted in a condition of homelessness.
Homelessness in the US
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that each year approximately 3.5 million unique individuals experience homelessness in America. 1.35 million, or 39%, of them are children. 45% of those children are under the age of 5. 25% of them are between the ages of 25 and 34; and 6% are aged 55 to 64.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the primary causes of homelessness are: poverty, eroding employment opportunity, lack of/decline in public assistance, and lack of affordable housing. The NCH identifies other contributing factors as: lack of affordable health care, domestic violence, mental illness, and addiction disorders.
The US Conference of Mayors reported that families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the national homeless population. Demographically, the national homeless population is estimated to be 42% African-American, 39% White, 13% Hispanic, 4% Native American, and 2% Asian. 67% of the homeless individuals (not in families) are male, while 65% of those in families are female.
Of homeless adults, 30% are severely mentally ill, 18 percent are physically disabled, 17 percent are employed, 16 percent are victims of domestic violence, 13 percent are veterans, and four percent are HIV Positive.
The US Conference of Mayors also determined that over half of all major cities cite domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness among women.
Homelessness in Chattanooga
According to information gathered from local service providers, over 4,000 individuals experience homelessness each year in Chattanooga, with over 1,000 homeless children in public schools. Each night, an estimated 600-700 individuals sleep outside or in shelters, with nearly 200 of them in families. Chattanooga reflects national trends when it comes to the rise in homelessness among families. Over the last several years, the number of homeless families has increased nearly 300%.
Each year, we participate in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Point In Time Count, which counts the number of homeless individuals on a given night in cities across America. It counts individuals living in shelters and on the street. The 2015 count found that 635 people were homeless in our area.