According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, on any given night in the US there are 750,000 people without a place to sleep. But isn't this one of the most if not the most wealthy and progressive nations in the world? I thought it was but apparently we have quite a ways to go on the progressive part.
The sheer numbers and stats that describe homelessness are mind boggling. In 1995 there were over 2 million people in the US that did not have a place to stay at some point during the year. To put this in more tangible terms, on any given night in Atlanta there are 15,000 - 22,000 people without shelter. That is almost the number of people enrolled at most major state universities. As one might expect, 40% of the nation's homeless are either alcohol or drug dependent. Also almost 1/3 of them suffer from severe mental illnesses. Which is apparently their fault. What's even more shocking though is that 30% of the homeless people in the nation are veterans that served in this very country's armed services. So after risking life and limb to supposedly help this country and no doubtedly make money in saving precious oil fields etc..., these people are given little to no training in basic trades and are expected to fend for themselves. Not to mention those that have psychological problems after serving that were never addressed by the military.
The one statistic that stands out above all is that every night there are almost 200,000 homeless children in this country; children that have not been given a choice. They've been handed this socio-economic status and without help will forever be there. But everybody says children are our most precious natural resource. Well America is staying true to form by wasting yet another precious natural resource.
Of course older homeless people can get jobs and afford an apartment right? Actually 25-40% of homeless people do work. So why are these people homeless? For starters over 3 million Americans spend more than half of their salary on rent each month. This means that if they have an unexpected illness, accident, or miss a paycheck they can easily be homeless. We all know that unexpected events will happen. But most of us can just change our lives to work around a temporary setback. Imagine, having a member of your immediate family dying. You take a few days off of work to visit family and attend a funeral. By the time you get back you've missed so many days you can't pay your utility bill. How is someone supposed to live like that? That's not even mentioning getting an unexpected illness and missing an entire paycheck. Then the illness becomes the least of your worries while you look for a place to live on little or no money.
Even if a person in poverty makes enough money to rent a small apartment, he or she may not be able to find affordable housing. In the US affordable housing for people in poverty is declining and making way for urban redevelopment. Recently in Chicago large public and low income apartment complexes were torn down to make way for brand new high rises that will have stores and luxury apartments that only upper middle class people can afford. Where are these displaced people supposed to go? Are they supposed to just move into the suburbs where the upper middle class people came from? Does someone out there actually believe they can afford to buy or rent these places?
Of course I haven't even talked about the 50-60% that are chemically dependent or mentally ill. With public assistance being cut these people cannot get the assistance they need to live normal lives. Increasingly the mentally ill are given medication and sent back onto the streets to fend for themselves. If they miss a pill or don't have the money to buy refills then they become unable to function in our society, leaving them homeless. You know the guy you saw wandering around the park talking to himself. Ever wonder why he talks to himself and lives on street? That guy should get some help you say. But how can he? Have you ever been to the doctor for a measly cold or just a check up? Remember how much that costs. Now think about how much going to the doctor for mental illness costs, not to mention the drugs used to control the illness. Can just anybody afford these services? That's why "the crazy guy" is in the park.
This essay is not intended to be entirely negative. It is meant to bring people to awareness. Although large, these problems can be solved. On a national level The National Coalition for the Homeless, according to their press release, "engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing." They have an extensive web site so anyone with internet access can browse through and learn about the causes and effects of homelessness. Also they have an extensive database on homeless research. On a more one on one level they help local organizations get started by public speaking and donating money. Visit the website at In Atlanta, since that is where this zine is based, there is the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. They participate in all phases of helping the homeless from actually providing shelter to helping people search for low income housing. Plus they have a 24 hr emergency line and provide supplies and goods to help out such as MARTA tokens for poverty stricken people to hygienic supplies. Visit them at Of course if you want to stay punk and non-traditional there is Food Not Bombs. What makes this organization different is the fact that they serve all vegetarian meals to the homeless. By serving food to the homeless in public places they make a public stand against militarism and poverty. They have three basic principles: food recycling, non-violence, and consensus decision making. You can find your local chapter usually by looking in an alternative newspaper under ads for volunteers.
The homeless problem in the US is a fascinating subject. It is amazing to see that such a rich and progressive country has such a large population of homeless people. Most of these people are in these conditions because the government has cut programs meant to help them. However it is not a lost cause and there are many organizations that help the homeless find housing and develop skills. The problem of homelessness is of particular importance in Atlanta. Out of the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the U.$. Atlanta ranks in the top five in being the cruelest to homeless people.