The issue of homelessness is one fraught with disproportion, inequality, and spurious relationships that give way to underlying structural causes. Homeless persons are disproportionately mentally ill, drug addicted, African American, and ex-offenders. It is easy to dismiss homelessness as a personal problem, a problem of the mentally ill, the drug users, and the ex-offenders. Yet, millions of Americans use drugs, have major mental health issues, commit crimes, are minorities, and never see the inside of a homeless shelter. If drug use truly caused homelessness, then most drug users would become homeless. Drug use is no doubt a contributing factor, but without the structural factors of employment, wages, and housing costs, drug abuse alone would not create homelessness.
The standard measure of affordable housing is that cost of rent or mortgage should not exceed 30% of net income. At this level, crises such as medical bills, car repair, even problems with drugs or alcohol, can usually be absorbed into monthly costs. Once persons begin paying over 30% of their income towards housing, they are considered to be “rent burdened.” When someone begins to pay 50% of their income towards housing, they are considered to be at risk of becoming homeless.
One major study found that between 11-14% of all persons below the poverty level in two major cities had to use the homeless shelter system at least once. In a major study of homeless persons, the most frequently cited reasons for becoming homelessness were the inability to pay rent (15%) and lost job or job ended (14%).
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