By Tayyaba Anwar

June 20th, 2009.
Homelessness is a social category reserved for people lacking permanent shelter. Such people are occasionally seen wandering around the streets without a home, either in a group or as separate individuals. People we know as gypsies also present a type of homelessness. They, united with other homeless people, are either living in a nighttime residency which provides the public temporary living accommodations, or they are literally residing on the streets.

The causes of homelessness can be numerous, yet poverty is identified as one of the most prevalent reasons because of the inextricable link that it provides. Poor people are recurrently unable to pay for their housing, food, child care, health care, education and other countless necessities of life. Difficult choices are made when limited resources fulfill only some of these requirements and more than often, housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income, is dropped out. But not being able to afford shelter doesn’t mean that the family is completely without a source of income. Almost one in five homeless people is employed, but due to a small wage, meeting the expenses of housing seems impossible.

One of the other main reasons for homelessness can be mental illness or various types of physical disabilities. Shocking as it might be, approximately 20-25% of the single adult homeless population suffer from some form of severe and persistent mental illness, which obviously means that they cannot earn to support themselves and their families. The same goes for physically disabled people who are also thus forced to live on the streets.

Battered women are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness and most of them are forced to choose this alternative. Almost half of the adrift women found claim to having left their houses with their children due to the domestic violence they used to face there or divorce. Surprisingly, the issue of having left homeless by divorce is not only conserved for women, many of the men found also claimed to having undergone the same situation which left them on the streets.

Living on the streets means being deprived of even the basic resources of life needed to survive at times. More than often, being homeless means being constantly susceptible to various diseases. A number of factors contribute to bring about such a situation, including constant physical and physiological stress, exposure to dangerous elements, living in a crowded, chaotic and unhealthy environment and lack of protection from microorganisms.

Homeless adults are at a greater health risk than those living in the serenity of their houses to get affected by various diseases. Frostbite, leg ulcers, skin diseases, and upper respiratory infections are a few common sicknesses found within the homeless. More threatening and infectious diseases like Aids, tuberculosis and diabetes are also found within them in huge numbers. The rate of TB among homeless people is believed to be at least a hundred times greater than the average for the general population and around 8% of the homeless people are believed to have been infected with AIDS. People living in slums are those which are commonly known to have been affected with TB and Aids due to the overcrowded conditions that they live in. Homeless children also have higher rates of ear infections, stomach problems, depression, constant anxiety and asthma than other children of their age. They also tend to perform much weaker in school than their fellow peers. Mostly, the homeless are not even able to afford quality education for their children, which ensures a dark future ahead for them.

Living on the streets also means being more vulnerable to abuse. Over the last decade, there have been more than 600 attacks against homeless people. People residing in small tents in public grounds or those sleeping on platforms have been brutally attacked with baseball bats, chains and other weapons. Some shelters simply would not accept boys; others would not accept any children. That tears the family apart as the children are taken away to be placed in foster care or with some relatives. A number of children also report to have been abused physically. Women are also just as much in a helpless situation. Over 78.5 % of the women claim to having been sexually abused and over 21.2 % of the women accept that they had been raped at least once. Followed by such events, many women also admit to having tried to commit suicide various times.

These destitute people require as much help and attention as they can get. There are homeless shelters, which provide temporary housing for people, and there are also some public houses, which require a small amount of rent according to what they can afford, which are dedicated to help them. There are also some job training programs, since the homeless people require more than just a roof and three meals a day to escape from their conditions. People need jobs and real prospects to ensure a better future. Many government and private organizations offer job training programs to help homeless people get back on their feet. The training can be in the form of providing some job skill, giving computer education, internships or mentoring.
Sure the government and other private institutions are doing as much as they can to bring the issue of homelessness to a halt, but their efforts will never be rewarded unless the public contributes. The simple answer to this question is: Volunteer to help. Donate some clothes, food or money to the shelter. If you are not using a toy or some books, give them to those who really need them. If you still feel there is nothing you can do then one thing they deserve more than anything else in this world is respect, because as David Pirtle said,
“Most of the despair in being homeless comes from being treated like you don’t exist, if you see the same guy on the street corner every day, find out his name and talk to him. It might save his life.”


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