Homelessness in the USA

Carys Law ‘21

Walking around the tranquil suburbs of Basking Ridge, you might not see people living on the streets, but outside of the idyllic town that we live in, thousands of people do not have a place to call home.  While we are contentedly unworried about our living situations, around 643,067 people around the United States are experiencing homelessness. (This number is most likely larger due to underreporting).

What exactly defines homelessness? Homelessness encompasses four broad categories:  1) people who live in places not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelters, or in transitional housing, 2) people losing a residence, 3) families with children who are unstably housed, 4) people who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence or have no other residence.

According to a census conducted in January of 2017, of the 8.944 million people in New Jersey, an estimated 8,536 people are destitute.  To put that into perspective, 95 per 100,000 people in the state are homeless.

Upon hearing these staggering facts, Matt Maung, ‘21, exclaimed, “It’s very hard to grasp the enormity of the homeless population, and I think that we can do a better job at providing shelter for them, and helping them find jobs so that they can be able to support themselves in the future.”

Even more shocking, almost 40% of the homeless in the US is under the age of eighteen. Every year, almost 20,000 children are trafficked and around 50% of children surveyed in youth shelters attributed their homelessness to abuse and conflict within their families.

Of the homeless population, a quarter of them suffers from mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.  Around 17% are considered chronically homeless, meaning that a person has been homeless for over a year or has had at least 4 episodes of homelessness within 3 years, and sadly, 12% are veterans.  Most of the homeless population live in highly populated inner cities. The leading causes of homelessness are problems with alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as serious mental illnesses.

These eye-opening statistics do not account for people who are doubled-up, which refers to people who live with friends, family, or other non-relatives. The number of people who have doubled-up has been rising in recent years. From 2005 to 2010, the population of doublers increased by more than 50% and in 2010, it was estimated that around 6.8 million people were living doubled-up.

Camille Shen, ‘20, offers her insight on the issue: “I think the numbers show there’s definitely more the state can be doing to aid the homeless- including more extensive welfare and affordable housing so that no one is forced to sleep on the street.”  The main reason why the homeless can’t support themselves is due to low incomes and high housing costs. It has been proven that donating to organizations that build affordable housing has reduced the number of people that are homeless.

In Basking Ridge, we rarely see the homeless because there are no reported cases of unsheltered chronic homelessness in Somerset County, and so we have a hard time empathizing as a result. Yet outside of the protective bubble of our community lies problems that are rooted deeply in society and those that live in the shadowy streets of inner cities need to be recognized and helped.