Could you ever be homeless?


This is not a question about whether you have a low wage job. It’s not about whether you lost everything of value after foreclosure, nor is it about the fact many people have to file for bankruptcy after a devastating illness.

It is not even about money. The real question is: Do you have good relationships with family and friends who would provide you with a place to sleep in an emergency?

Family and friends keep people off the street when life goes bad. Consider the “boomerang generation.”  It is a common phenomenon now that adult children may move back in with their families after attempting independence. According to a Pew Research Center report, in 2012, 36 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 31) were living in their parents’ home — the highest percentage in at least four decades. Many college graduates move home until they can increase their income and reduce college debt, now topping $29,000 on average.

The poverty rates for shared households were lower than for other households, although the adults who made up those households individually had high rates of personal poverty.

That was especially true for young adults. Those who lived with their parents had a poverty rate of 8.4 percent, but that figure included the entire household in calculating income. If the poverty status was determined using solely individual incomes, the poverty rate for those doubled-up young adults would have been 45.3 percent, according to the Census Bureau. 

In families affected by individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) care giving often falls primarily to the parents. Aging parental caregivers are the backbone of long-term support for adult children with SMI. Siblings and close friends provide sanctuary as well.

The same can be true for families of addicts. Parents and siblings can hang on to the belief they can change their loved one’s behavior. Many tolerate deception, theft and a general failure to accept responsibilities that are intrinsic to the person who is dependent upon drugs or alcohol, including dependency on prescription narcotics.

In January 2013 over 600,000 people were homeless in America. This number is based on an actual count conducted across the country in which surveyors reach out to homeless people. By homeless we mean people who are living on the street, in emergency shelters or in short term housing.

Family and friends may be the only help standing between the effects of underemployment, mental illness and drug and alcohol addictions and homelessness. Those 600,000 people counted in January 2013 have nowhere to go. Either they never had good relationships with their families or those relationships have eroded over time due to the strains caused by crowded living, financial stress and family conflict.

Most people can feel confident they have someone who will be there for them in a time of crisis. That support alone can have a profound effect on the emotional stamina needed to reestablish one’s life – whatever led to its downward spiral.

Those who are cared for owe their families gratitude. Society owes them recognition for their willingness to risk their own comfort and financial stability to keep loved ones under roof.

Do you have people who would take you in if you lost everything tomorrow? Or is there a chance you would have to join the 600,000 people who have no one to help them?

There is good data showing American citizens and policy makers should be concerned about the potential of homelessness among doubled up households. Nonetheless thousands of people have a place to sleep tonight because they have strong, consistent family support.

Next time you see a person who needs to sleep in a shelter or in a tent you might remember, they do not have even one friend who can or will take them in from the cold.

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2 Responses to Could you ever be homeless?

  1. Carol Duncan says:

    Your essays keep getting better and better. I hope your readership is expanding commensurately. I keep thinking on these icy nights – I’m glad I have a warm home to go to.

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