Homelessness may seem like a complicated issue, and for the most part it can be. While experiencing homelessness, daily tasks such as showering, eating, and working can be daunting tasks. The isolation, loneliness, and depression that comes with homelessness leads to greater likelihood of drug abuse, risky sexual activity, mental stress and illness, as well as, suicide. The experience of homelessness will likely follow you for the rest of your life, lowering your life expectancy. In Cincinnati last year, more than 150 people died from homelessness, with an average age of 51. These are only the people we were able to account for, as with all statistics around homelessness, the numbers are always lower than reality.
Have you considered where you’d register to vote, if you’re experiencing homelessness? Ohio law says that your home is any place you intend to return to. People can use park benches as their address, but they won’t get their mail delivered to a park bench, so they will not be able to participate in the voting process (as there are required documents that need to be mailed). Being able to get mail on a regular basis is a luxury that many people, in all types of homelessness, are not able to enjoy.
In Hamilton County, more than 25,000 people will experience homelessness this year. Less than half of those people will come in contact with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) that reports back to the federal government on the severity and need surrounding homelessness. National data has shown that less than 25% of people who are eligible for housing support actually receive it. And with a deficit of more than 40,000 units of affordable housing, Hamilton County is in a housing crisis. More than 10% of Cincinnati Public School students will experience homelessness this year, meaning they have no stable housing, or they will lose their housing at some point during the school year.
The homelessness crisis is real, and it affects everyone, regardless of your housing status or income level. When people learn the types of homelessness, they often remark that they didn’t realize that they had experienced, or are currently experiencing homelessness. It is often jarring to realize that the support that you thought you had actually kept you on the edge of homelessness, or that your idea of what a “home” is has to be reevaluated. From couch-surfing to sleeping rough, homelessness has a negative effect on the individual and community.
Couchsurfing is often seen as a right of passage after major events, like graduation, or even just during summer break from school. But more often, adults who are not in school, are spending time on their friends’ and families’ couches. Trying to help out where they can by cleaning out the garage, babysitting, taking care of the yard, or helping to pay a portion of the energy bill. This type of homelessness is difficult to get out of because people end up spending a lot of their time and energy trying to please friends and family, so getting on their own two feet becomes impossible with the lack of time to spend on seeking out independence. Even if someone is sleeping on a bed, they are couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is not considered homelessness in some models, and is often overlooked like doubling up.
Doubling up is when two families are living together out of economic necessity. Once again, this could be living with friends or family, and is very similar to couchsurfing. Only one family has their name on the lease and is legally allowed to occupy the home. Many times family members double up so much that they think it is a normal way of life, not realizing that it is a form of homelessness. Because there is no place in the United States that a minimum-wage worker can afford a two bedroom apartment, many times the working poor are doubled up, even while working full time. The wages don’t allow for families to become independent while leave families vulnerable to eviction or abuse.
Sometimes, after exhausting couchsurfing opportunities, people find themselves sleeping in their cars. Afterall, homelessness is an economic issue, not a moral one. If it was a moral issue, we would not let it happen, but because it is an economic issue we are able to continually justify homelessness. There is an entire reddit devoted to car- habitation and how to modify your vehicle so that it is more comfortable to live in. Readers exchange tips on how to find safer parking spots, prepare food in your car, and create the most comfortable sleeping situation. Imagine keeping all of your possessions in your car and sleeping in it every day. Where will you shower? How will you get a hot meal? This car might be the last thing someone owns, and they may be about to lose it to repossession or citations.
Last year, Cincinnati saw a standoff regarding the street encampments. Ultimately, the City and County colluded to make it illegal to experience homelessness on private of public land in the entire county. While this puts more than 25,000 vulnerable people into an even more stressful and dangerous situation, it does nothing to end homelessness. The Homeless Ban has forced people further into the shadows, putting them at considerable risk. People who sleep on the street have a right to under the First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution to do so. While this is being settled in federal court, understanding that it is not desirable to live outside, even with a tent, but it is difficult, dangerous, and leads to poor health outcomes, can help us come up with create and humane ways to reduce homelessness.
If you are living in a motel, that is a type of homelessness. Motels are only designed for brief stays, and living in one room with a small refrigerator and a contraband hotplate, while it may seem better than living in a tent, will result in lowered health outcomes as well. Eating fried, cheap food, sleeping many people in one bed, having nowhere to decompress, paying most of your income on just a room, will lead to long-lasting physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Families need stability and the ability to be a part of a specific community, which cannot be done while living in a motel.
Homeless at home is another type of homelessness that affects countless people in our region. The number of people who experience this type of homelessness isn’t included in the 25,000 people who will experience homelessness this year in Hamilton County but it also has a very negative effect on our community. Many youth especially experience this type of homelessness where they have a roof over their head, but there is no food on the table or parental guidance. Children are often receiving their only meals at school or going to a neighbor’s house for something to eat.
If you’re paying more than 30% of your income towards your housing, you may just be a paycheck away from losing it all. Most Americans don’t have at least $1000 in savings, leaving us closer to homelessness than ever. Even if you are getting in a relationship for a place to stay, this is still a form of homelessness until you have a lease in your name. People who are vulnerable to homelessness include people who have experienced homelessness throughout their lives. The wealth gap created by race-based policies that lead to white generational wealth has given us a system where Black people are way more likely to experience homelessness. Unless we have a restructuring of wealth with an eye on race in this country, homelessness will continue to rise, creating with it new types of homelessness that fall beneath the radar and certainly don’t make it into any governmental count. Educate your friends and families on homelessness so that they can work harder to create a more stable and equitable community.