Contributing Factors To Homelessness

Behavioral Health Issues

Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily living such as self-care and household management. Mental illnesses may also prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships or may cause people to misinterpret others’ guidance, so that they react irrationally. This often results in pushing away caregivers, family, and friends who may be the force keeping that person from becoming homeless. As a result of these factors, and the stresses of living with mental health issues, people with mental illnesses are much more likely to become homeless than the general population.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is often a cause of homelessness. Addictive disorders disrupt relationships with family and friends and contribute to people losing their jobs. For people who are already struggling to pay their bills, the onset or exacerbation of an addiction may cause them to lose their housing.

In many situations, substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with overwhelming issues. They use substances to attain temporary relief from problems. Unfortunately, substance dependence only exacerbates core issues and decreases an individual’s ability to achieve employment stability that might lead to securing stable housing.  Homeless people with both substance disorders and mental illness experience additional obstacles to recovery, such as increased risk for violence and victimization and frequent cycling between the streets, jails and hospital emergency rooms (Fisher and Roget).

Often when individuals are ready to explore recovery, they cannot find treatment facilities to help them. Many programs for those homeless with mental illnesses do not accept people with substance abuse disorders, and many programs for homeless substance abusers do not treat people with mental illnesses.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is the immediate cause of homelessness for many women. Survivors of domestic violence are often isolated from support networks and financial resources by their abusers, which puts them at risk of becoming homeless. As a result, they may lack a steady income, employment history, credit history and landlord references. They also often suffer from anxiety, panic disorder, major depression and substance abuse. Survivors of domestic violence have both short- and long-term housing needs. Immediately, survivors require safe housing away from the abuser. Ultimately, the family requires access to safe, stable and affordable housing.

Human Trafficking

There is a grave misconception that human trafficking is a trend relegated to foreign soil. The painful truth is that human trafficking – one of the world's fastest-growing criminal industries – is a monstrous issue and prevalent in the United States. In fact, 85% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens, mostly runaway children. Often disconnected from family and friends, homeless kids are particularly susceptible to traffickers who will lure them with the promise of food, warmth and even affection. Once snatched from the streets without anyone noticing, they are sold for the highest price, their dignity and sense of self destroyed. 

Households With Limited Income

Most households—families and individuals—who become homeless have incomes well below the federal poverty standard. According to tabulations in the “Worst Case Needs,” which analyzed American Housing Survey data for a three-month time span,  among renter households with severe housing problems and incomes below 30 percent of area median income (which varies by location, but is roughly equivalent to the poverty level), 5.9 percent missed one rent payment during the three-month time period, another 6.2 percent missed two to three rent payments, 3 percent had their utilities shut off, and another 3.3 percent faced the threat of eviction.

Source: American Housing Survey data, 2013. The exhibit is reproduced from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Worst Case Housing Needs: 2015 Report to Congress. Office of Policy Development and Research, April 2015