In the United States, the shelter system has evolved in the past one decade to meet the demands of a large number of homeless people which comprises three groups; unaccompanied homeless adolescents (homeless and run-away youths), single adults and homeless families. Homeless people frequently suffer from a relative lack of personal support networks. For instance, they lack linkages to friends, family, neighbor or other social or occupational groups. This paper explains various aspects of homelessness in the United States.
Compositions of the Homeless Population
Within homeless people’s diversity, various groups with their needs and profiles can be identified and defined. They include chronic alcoholics whose activities mainly revolve around satisfying the craving for alcohol, the street people who are bizarre individuals that have turned the streets into their homes, chronically mentally ill whose mental illnesses interfere with their ability to solve problems or reason properly and situational homeless people whose homeless situation has emerged due to the change in circumstances such as war, spousal abuse, urban redevelopment, domestic conflicts and unemployment. With the recent changes, homelessness has gained diversity of profiles. For instance, the current homeless population includes children, teen aged youths, mentally ill, women victims of spousal problems, refugees, new immigrants, casual workers and those recently released from prison (Casavat).
Policies and Programs that Address Homelessness
- The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act
This act was created in 1987 and it consisted of fifteen programs and 9 titles that provide a range of services to the homeless. The services include transitional housing, job training, education, emergency shelter and permanent housing. According to this act, a homeless is defined as an individual who lacks regular, fixed and adequate nighttime residence and a person who has a nighttime residence that is privately or publicly operated to provide temporary accommodations, an institution providing temporary residence for people to be institutionalized or a place not designed for regular sleeping accommodation. The act has undergone various amendments in order to expand the scope of its provisions. However, the impact of homelessness on youths and children including physical, emotional and social barriers appeared to outweigh the Act and all its amendments (NCH).
- Other Programs
Other programs have been designed to serve the homeless people in America. They include the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY), the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) and the Supportive Housing Program (SHP) among others.
- Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY)
This program assists the state education agencies in ensuring that all the homeless youth and children get equal access to the universal free public school education. All grants made to local education agencies by state education agencies under the program are used in facilitating enrollment, attendance and success of homeless children and youths in schools. For instance the funds are used in activities such as supplemental instruction, tutoring, referral services and provision of health services. In order to access the funds, each state is required to submit a plan of how to identify the homeless, how assurances will be in place that the homeless will be allowed to participate in federal, state and local programs if they are eligible and how problems such as transportation, residency requirements, lack of birth certificates and immunization will be addressed by the state (CRS Report for Congress, p. 4).
- Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP)
This program is administered by the emergency preparedness and response directorate in the Department of Homeland Security. The program is governed by a board of governors who determine the non-profit private or public organizations of the local governments that should be given grants or funds to act as service providers to the homeless. These funds are for mass feeding sites, mass shelters, food banks, emergency repairs of shelters and feeding facilities and emergency mortgage or rent for people to prevent homelessness (CRS Report for Congress, p. 5).
- Supportive Housing Program (SHP)
This program provides funds for transitional housing, permanent housing for the disabled, or a single room for the purpose of occupancy dwelling. To access these funds, permanent housing is required to provide supportive services such as child care, employment, food assistance, outpatient services and assistance in getting permanent housing to its residents (CRS Report for Congress, p. 10-11).
Roles Played by Social Workers
- Direct Service Providers
These are the best known among the organizations that serve the homeless. They range from narcotics anonymous programs to emergency shelters. The involved service providers include civic groups, individuals and church congregations. They run kitchens, medical clinics and clothing centers which serve the immediate and long term homeless’ demands. In addition, direct service providers refer residents to services that assist them in getting permanent housing, enrolling children to school, addressing medical needs and other aspects that need attention (Weinreb, p. 33).
Individual homeless advocates and various advocacy organizations work at national and local level and they are devoted to fighting homelessness and making sure that the rights of the homeless are respected. For example, the Child Welfare League of America takes the issues that affect the homeless to the Congress. There are various local groups that address the issues of homeless by opening additional shelters and allowing the homeless to sleep on various public properties. More importantly, the advocates assist in bridging the gap between the policy makers and the service providers. In addition, the advocates assist the homeless in legal issues which call for fair treatment in the society (Weinreb, p. 33).
After a series of changes in lives, it is common for individuals and families to become homeless. The policies and programs aimed at assisting the homeless are operated at state and local levels and very little exists to prevent homelessness. The United States should come up with a national policy that should include health care, economic support for families and comprehensive social services. Otherwise, homeless will continue to be one of the major social problems in the country.