Many of us think of the homeless as people on the street wrapped in old clothes holding cardboard signs asking for spare change or a few dollars. The truth of the matter is people on the verge of homelessness hold jobs and clean up rather well. The rising cost of housing combined with stagnant wages has made it so that many of us are a single paycheck or financial disaster away from experiencing homelessness.
A Lack of Savings
While we all know we should have money socked away for unexpected financial expenses, it can be difficult to save up. Student loans, insurance, mortgages and other such financial obligations can stretch our paychecks so far that it’s hard to find money to put into a savings account. Roughly 40 percent of Americans have at least $1,000 in emergency savings. Even then, that may not be enough to cover something like a major medical bill.
Without adequate savings, a person may have to resort to selling belongings or borrowing money. Personal loans can dig a person deeper in debt, with high interest rates that make it even harder to put money in savings. This all feeds further into financial difficulties, pushing people even more towards the possibility of homelessness, as noted by Dr. Rohit Varma and others who study homelessness.
Another reason many Americans are close to losing their place of residence is sluggish wage increases. Employers may have a hard time paying employees a fair wage for their own reasons, a hardship that trickles down to workers and their financial health. To make ends meet, Americans may commute long distances or hold several jobs. This can put a strain on their mental health and result in more wear and tear on their vehicles. Should one’s car break down, it will need to go to the shop, which can result in a high unexpected bill. Not only that, but the person doesn’t have a way to get to work, exacerbating the entire situation.
Chasing After Someone Else’s Dream
Another contributor of experiencing homelessness is chasing after the American Dream. Having a house, nice car and a designer wardrobe are all common indicators of wealth. Some people will do anything to make themselves look successful, even if that means spending money they don’t have and courting homelessness. Even if an individual isn’t obsessed with status, she or he may be under the impression that hard work will automatically and inevitably result in financial prosperity. Such a mindset can potentially blind a person to the hardship and reality of our current financial times, ultimately ending in being out on the street.
Even those struggling financially can do their part in helping the homeless get back on their feet. Before throwing out food, it’s good to see if those leftovers are still fresh enough to hand out to a homeless person. This is an especially good idea when eating out at restaurants that serve huge portions. Letting people know about those experiencing homelessness or in need is another good idea. It’s no secret that we can get wrapped up in our own lives and problems, developing tunnel vision. Simply learning about those who have no home or are in need can remind people to think of ways they can help when and however they can.
With the lack of phone booths and phone books, it’s hard for homeless people to know whom to call for help. Writing down the numbers of homeless shelters, churches, public health clinics, nonprofit organizations focused on the homeless and public transportation services and passing them out can help.
Responding to, preventing, resolving and addressing homelessness will undoubtedly take time. Education is key to the issue, as is awareness. No matter who is currently experiencing homelessness or is close to experiencing homelessness, there are plenty of ways we can all do our part to help.