Emergency Shelter

Emergency Shelter

Why are people homeless?

Individuals or families may be homeless for a variety of reasons.  The most obvious is the lack of housing, particularly affordable housing. There is no one, simple answer to this question. A number of complex conditions may exist that pose barriers to permanent housing:

Lack Of Affordable Housing

Conditions in the current housing market are having a substantial negative impact on families living on limited or fixed incomes. Foreclosures are drastically increasing, and low-income renters are increasingly facing evictions or extreme rent increases. Over the years, gentrification in many urban areas has created a phenomenon of rental unit conversions to ownership condominium units, forcing many long-time tenants out of their homes. 

Low Wages/Poverty

Boston’s housing prices and overall cost of living are among the highest in the nation, yet wages have not kept pace with costs. For those who do not have the education or skills to obtain a higher wage job, the challenges are extreme. A working adult earning a $10/hour wage would have to work two full-time jobs to afford Boston market rents. In addition, those receiving public assistance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive a fixed amount of just a few hundred dollars a month for basic needs, such as housing, food and healthcare.

Job Or Income Loss

Statistics tells us that many individuals and families are “one paycheck away from homelessness.” Although the poor are most at risk of homelessness, middle class families who lose the wage-earner’s income – whether due to job loss, disability, death or for other reasons – may not be able to continue monthly housing payments leading to evictions from their homes due to mortgage or rental defaults.

Mental Illness

A large number of homeless individuals grapple with various forms of mental illness. Depression, anxiety, bipolar personality disorder, and schizophrenia are among the most common. Though not a direct cause of homelessness, poor mentally ill individuals have a lack of access to support services to secure appropriate housing or treatment.

Substance Abuse

Alcohol or drug addiction is a disease that crosses socioeconomic boundaries. However, individuals living on the edge of poverty lack the social or financial supports to address the addiction and are at a higher risk of homelessness. Addicts who are homeless often lack adequate health care, access to addiction treatment, or supportive housing, which is compounded by the stigma of addiction.

Domestic Violence

When a victim of domestic violence decides to leave an abuser, s/he is usually making the choice between personal safety and housing and financial stability. Massachusetts allows domestic violence survivors to reside in a domestic violence shelter for a maximum of 90 days. Too often, the survivor – who, more often than not, has been isolated from friends and family – is often faced by a choice of returning to the batterer or homelessness.

What are the Answers?

There are no easy answers, especially in a challenging economic climate. Early in 2008, the Massachusetts Commission to End Homelessness released a report that proposed a five-year plan to combat the problem of homelessness.

Any meaningful solutions to end homelessness require the resources to address the root causes of homelessness and barriers to permanent housing. 

Affordable Housing is a need for homeless individuals and families across the spectrum. Government affordable housing programs, such as Section 8 or public housing, have waiting lists that are several years long. Increasing resources for such programs will help thousands of families overcome homelessness. Affordable housing initiatives should also be targeted to the families with fixed- or low-income, who are at or below 30 percent of the Area Median Income (annual income of $24,800 for a family of four).

Homelessness prevention initiatives, such as rental assistance or support services, provide families the help they need to remain in their homes. Programs such as rental assistance provide a limited monetary assistance to cover the shortfall in rent payments, at a lower cost to taxpayers than emergency shelters. Non-financial support services for vulnerable tenants provide appropriate interventions to prevent homelessness.

Individuals and families also need access to affordable health care, including substance abuse treatment and mental health recovery services, as well as access to job training and employment assistance, designed to assist individuals and families in overcoming barriers to their homelessness.