Being young and restless does not count if you have not spent a night under the stars, but this is not an article about some drunk tell-offs or hopelessly romantic dates. Some people actually have no other choice but to sleep on the streets, every night, for years. It is estimated that more than half a million people are sleeping on the streets or at temporary shelters every single night, that is roughly around 0.17 % of the population in the US, and the number keeps getting higher. States with the highest number of homeless people are California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington.
Usually, when we think about homeless people, we have a picture of some suspicious, half-criminal and often drunk people, but they are not all like that. There are many women, war veterans and innocent children who have no homes. Plenty of reasons can be a cause of homelessness, some people are homeless on their own fault, but some others did not have a choice or luck.
Homeless people have been divided into four main categories: family, youth, veterans and chronic homelessness. The last group represents that stereotypic type of a homeless person, they usually have some physical or mental health problems, they have been on the streets for a long time of years, and they are often in shelters and need professional assistance to stay stable. Although people usually think that the vast majority of homeless people belongs to this group, they are actually making only 15% of the entire population of homeless people.
We often see that many homeless people are on the streets with their pets, usually dogs, and that is a good thing. Pets can be beneficial for their mental health, safety, and they will always be their loyal companions. Many also wonder how is it possible that some homeless people have cell phones. Well, since, after all, we live in a digital era, basic phones are not so hard to afford or to be found for a bargain, and many cities have public charging stations. Cell phones are useful for homeless people because with them they can track the situation of free places in shelters, or search for housing and other forms of help.
Is there any solution to homelessness? Of course, a home, affordable home. To end homelessness government should provide enough housing which should be affordable to households with lower incomes. In the meanwhile, the system should help them find a job, offer them medical help if necessary, and prepare them to get back on track.
In today’s post we are going to check some facts and latest numbers about homeless people in America, and to see how are they struggling with sleep, and how much it differs from our common sleep issues.
State of Homelessness
How do we define homelessness? Apparently, there is more than just one, official definition of homelessness, but they all imply that a homeless person or a family is missing a housing, or is one paycheck away from losing it all. Many agencies use these different definitions to target a specific group and their eligibility for various help programs.
It is widely accepted that homeless people are considered for criminals, drug addicts, robbers, former convicts, etc. and that is why they are usually avoided, mocked or people just turn their heads away from them. When you are sleeping on the street, other people’s opinions are your least concern, but some towns are trying to deal with homelessness on not so much helpful way, their politics are creating the criminalization of homelessness. Some cities have banned activities like sitting in certain public places, sleeping or laying down as well, begging, loitering, and even sleeping in your own car. So, not only they do not leave many options for those who are street sleepers, but they are also not trying much to help them either.
In their annual homeless assessment report for 2018. from December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that the number of homeless people had increased slightly, for 0.3%, compared to 2017; also, the number of people who are in unsheltered locations has increased for the third year in a row. Around 65% of homeless people have spent the last year in emergency shelters or in transitional housing, while 35% was out there on the streets. The number of homeless families continued to decline, but there are still around 180.000 people who are experiencing homelessness with their children or other family members, the vast majority of them, approximately 91%, are located in homeless shelters. Another group of homeless people that is declining are veterans. African Americans are right now making 40% of the homeless population but do not forget that they only make 13% of the entire U.S. population.
Sleeping on The Streets
When it comes to sleeping, it can be challenging even when you are in your own bed, but loud neighbors or an uncomfortable mattress are those kinds of problems that homeless people dream about. Sleeping on a pile of stuff or on a bench each night is far from comfortable, and they are exposed to weather, so if it is cold, raining or snowing, they have to find some shelter. So, far from the ideal sleep conditions, and with this type of sleeping environment, we cannot speak about any pros or benefits, because they simply do not exist.
After the initial problem of not having a home, sleep deprivation is probably the second most difficult problem which affects homeless people. Street lights, traffic noise, weather, and safety are the main concerns for those on the streets. And as if that is not enough, a lot of homeless people are actually awake during the night. If they cannot find a safe place to sleep or in general do not feel safe at all during the night, they choose to stay awake and try sleeping during the day. During the daylight, everything looks safer, but at the same time falling asleep is more difficult. The vast majority of homeless people are chronically sleep deprived, their sleep is often interrupted, and they get an average of 4 hours of sleep per day, which is below necessary.
The situation is not much better in shelters, because they are often overcrowded, and problematic situations can escalate quickly. People are afraid that they can be robbed or attacked while they are sleeping, so they are not getting much more sleep there. Sadly, this problem continues for most of them even when they eventually settle and get housed, they cannot adapt to quietness or cannot relax enough to fall asleep once they are finally in a real bed. These problems are usually solved with the help of sleep medications.
Besides sleep deprivation, other common sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, and extreme daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy is another ongoing problem, many street sleepers live in an enchanted circle of vices, they often reach for pills or drugs to help them stay awake during the night, and then during the day they drink alcohol or take marijuana to induce sleep.
Causes of Homelessness
Various reasons and causes can lead to homelessness, some people got on the street thanks to their wrong life choices and decisions, while others are there because they were unlucky. Here we are going to discuss a few most common cause of homelessness in America.
- Poverty – probably the main reason for homelessness is poverty. People who are unable or just cannot earn enough to afford housing, meals, education, and health care, are living on the edge, and they are only a step away from being homeless.
- Health – sadly, not everyone can afford to be healthy these days because it has become so ridiculously expensive, and many people end up in debts or on the street because they were fighting against some illnesses, and could not financially afford it.
- Mental health – we secluded mental health as a separate category just because this group of people is more liable to poverty and disaffiliation. Finding a job is like an impossible mission for them; hence they have no stable incomes and struggle with daily expenses. Their mental illness can impair their judgment and decision making, and jeopardize them. Homeless veterans are usually suffering from some mental illnesses.
- Domestic violence – this a common cause of homelessness among women and children who decide to end abusive family relationships but they do not have anywhere to go.
Where do Homeless People Sleep?
While we are fighting over the left/right side of the bed with our partner, homeless people have a different kind of problems. Unless they are in a shelter, they do not have a bed, and they may find some worn out mattress on the street and have to fight for it. When they are not fighting over the place, they are dealing with bugs, insects, rain or snow, so it can be challenging. Let’s see what all the places where homeless people can find some rest are.
- Homeless shelters – the vast majority of them goes to these centers, but many go back to the streets. In big cities, like, for example, San Francisco, these shelters are full almost every night, people are forced to wait in queue for hours to get a bed for that night. And, the reality is that even though they will provide you a bed and a roof above you, shelters are not much safer than the street. People often get robbed or attacked there, and some shelters have strict politics which can split partners or families, women and children are usually separated from the men’s section for the night.
- Street – finding a proper private place to sleep in public is hard, usually homeless people are sleeping in the park or in some corners or allies. Day sleeping can be rough, but they are all sticking to it because there are fewer chances that they get attacked during the daylight. Unfortunately, some cities are trying to ban sleeping on the streets which leaves little or no options for some of them.
- Car – many choose to sleep and live in their vehicle, which provides them a safe and private space for sleeping, a roof, and shelter from bad weather. Disadvantages are that it is hard to find a place to shower and a safe place to park and sleep because the police are also punishing sleeping in the car in many cities. Also, outdated license plates are another alarm signal for them.
- Camping spots – mostly partners or families option for encampments. These camping areas are usually outside of towns, and people live there in tents. The largest camping spot for homeless people was in San Jose in Silicon Valley, and since it was notorious for many reasons, the government decided to shut it down, and many other cities are following their steps and shutting down public camping areas for homeless people.
It is safe to say that we are all spoiled in some way, and as long as we have the privilege to enjoy our daily rituals, our family, friends, guilty pleasures and easygoing lifestyle we should not really complain about anything. We can all sometimes be so ungrateful and not aware of how much we have because we always compare ourselves to the ones who have more, not to the ones who have less or nothing. And, that is ok too, because we should always aspire to accomplish more, it’s just that we should not forget that we were extremely lucky to get a chance to live like that. It is hard to imagine, from our warm houses and beds, how it feels not to have a home, to have only a few things which are not enough to cover even the basic needs. If you want to make a donation for ending homelessness, you can find more information on the webpage of National Alliance to End Homelessness.