The True Cost of Homelessness
Homelessness doesn't just affect the people who have no place to live; it affects us all. When it comes to the homeless, many people have mixed emotions. Some are confused about how someone could end up living on the streets, feel uncomfortable around the homeless, or are uncertain how they can help. Some people feel that the homeless "allowed" themselves to end up that way and do not feel that it is their problem. Others feel it is a social justice issue and need to do something about it. Whether we understand it or not, we all bear the cost of homeless in our community.
There are many paths to homelessness.
Some common issues that contribute to a person becoming homeless include: lack of education, lack of financial management or life skills, lack of affordable housing, lack of job skills, reduction in hours or job loss, illness, injury, disability, addiction, incarceration, and mental illness. Some people become homeless in the wake of a natural disaster, such as a fire, or another type of emergency. Others become homeless when they choose to leave an unsafe situation, such as domestic violence.
With one of the highest costs of living in the U.S., it is easier to become homeless in Massachusetts than in more affordable states. At present, there is a significant gap between the state's minimum wage and the living wage, which is calculated based on the cost of living and includes items such as food, housing, child care, medical expenses, and transportation. Most residents in the Commonwealth are trying to get by with no savings or reserves. If some sort of crisis erupts in their lives, they are at risk of becoming homeless. This is especially true if the person or family has no friends or relatives to turn to for help.
The Big Three
There are three primary socio-economic costs of homelessness:
1. Cost to taxpayers: Health and mental health services, criminal justice system.
2. Loss of productivity: Decreased health and more time spent incarcerated means that homeless people have more obstacles that prevent them from contributing to society through their work and creativity.
3. Effect on children: Perhaps the most difficult cost to quantfy is the loss of future productivity due to the lower educational achievements of homeless children.
All of these costs affect each one of us in society. As citizens of the Commonwealth, the United States, and the World, we are responsible for the well being of each other, especially those that cannot always speak up or fight for themselves, like the homeless women and children who turn to Abby's House for help. You can help the women of Abby's House by helping to confront homelessness at its social and economic roots, and by embracing it as a community problem.