The United States is experiencing one of the largest epidemics of homelessness in its history. With cities ranking globally in the top five most homeless populations, California and New York currently have the highest rates of people experiencing homelessness– reigning in at 26.7% and 16.3%, respectively. Many other cities in the richest country in the world are close behind. Why has homelessness become normative in our nation?
From placing the blame on ‘biological causes’ and fomenting misinformed ideologies to the defunding of affordable housing and ever shifting failed policies, our country and its leaders at all levels of government have both contributed and failed to resolve this nationwide public health epidemic. Equally tragic, women and children are now the two fastest growing populations to experience homelessness, in responses to homeleness have blamed the individual rather than focusing on systemic causes, a failed safety net, and gender based inequities.
Annually, there are an estimated 1,129,307 million women experiencing homelessness in the United States. Even more vulnerable are the 2.5 million children experiencing homelessness, of which 51% are under the age of six. Compound stressors, such as adverse childhood experiences, neglect and abuse as well as gender based violence have perpetuated the increasing rates of homelessness experienced by women and children. Case in point, fifty-seven percent (57%) of all women experiencing homelessness report domestic violence as the immediate cause of their homelessness, thirty-five (35%) of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners, or non-partner sexual violence; and six (6) women are killed every hour by men around the world.
Complacency surrounding gender-based violence and inequities, a dearth of resources and overall ignorance of the needs, complexities and personal challenges faced by women and children have all contributed to this homeless epidemic. Solutions will require looking deeply at systemic factors and dedicating the resources needed to heal, strengthen and uplift women and children. Those same solutions will be an engine of prosperity for us all and the promise of a brighter future.