Just Work Harder
It is a common misconception that “homelessness is not random” and that “homelessness is a choice.” Homelessness is a complex socioeconomic issue which lacks a single cause. Though homelessness is not random in the sense that everyone is equally likely to experience it, homelessness’ main causes are out of the control of the individual. While a majority of people believe drugs, alcoholism, laziness, and “not working hard enough” are either “probably likely” or “definitely likely” to be causes, the truth does not reflect these beliefs (Phillips, 2015). 1
What determines if one will experience homelessness is not based on personal choices, as some may think; rather, it is simply bad luck which determines who experiences homelessness. More specifically, the individuals who experience homelessness have little to no control over the factors which cause it. The most common causes of homelessness include rises in housing prices, public policy on housing and poverty, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness (Honig, 1993; Aratani, 2009; Nishio, 2015). Clearly, these factors are not the result of any action by those who experience homelessness.
Similarly, the factors are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the choice of any of those people. What these factors do demonstrate is the aforementioned randomness associated with homelessness. Whether or not a city adopts certain measures which would either raise or lower housing, whether a certain region becomes more or less expensive, whether a partner chooses to be abusive, or if someone develops a mental illness can, for the scope of the individual, be attributed to chance. 2 Without talking to those people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness, it is impossible to know why they may have had those experiences.
Given the strikingly fast rise in property value that Los Angeles is undergoing, it is not surprising that it also has second largest homeless population in the country – greater than the next six largest populations (McCarthy, 2018; Lee, 2016). 3 Increasing desirability across the city and the advent of short term rentals from services such as Airbnb – to name just a few causes – have been increasing rent in an already expensive city. (Lee, 2016) As already explained, unaffordable rent is one of the primary causes of homelessness and Los Angeles is proof of a direct correlation between rent increase and a large homelessness problem.4 Hopefully, this information can shed some light on the common fallacies surrounding the causes of homelessness and move people’s sentiments away from blaming the individual to blaming the system and working from there to find solutions.
By: Michael Egan
1) It should noted that a majority of people also acknowledged unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances as likely causes of homelessness in addition to those factors attributed to the individual.
2) Though it is obviously true that all of the factors described do have their own causes, they are neither consciously caused nor fully understood by the average person.
3) These values are taken from estimates as homelessness is not only a very fluid condition which one may experience for very brief to very long periods of time but is also not something which is easily countable.
4) Though the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles is undoubtedly more complex than simply being attributed to rent, the city does demonstrate the link between unaffordable housing and homelessness.
Aratani, Yumiko. "Homeless children and youth: Causes and consequences." (2009).
Honig, Marjorie, and Filer, Randall K. “Causes of Intercity Variation in Homelessness.” The American Economic Review 83.1 (1993): 248–255. Print.
Lee, Dayne. "How Airbnb short-term rentals exacerbate Los Angeles's affordable housing crisis: Analysis and policy recommendations." Harv. L. & Pol'y Rev. 10 (2016): 229.
McCarthy, Niall. "The U.S. Cities With The Most Homeless People." Statista Infographics, Statista Inc., 20. December 2018.
Nishio, Akihiro et al. “Prevalence of Mental Illness, Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disability Among Homeless People in Nagoya, Japan: A Case Series Study.” Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 69.9 (2015): 534–542. Web.
Phillips, Lindsay. “Homelessness: Perception of Causes and Solutions.” Journal of Poverty19.1 (2014): 1–19. Web.
About the author:
Michael Egan is a member of the Media Committee at Trojan Shelter. His primary responsibilities lie in writing and editing blog posts for Trojan Shelter to help spread their message through both compassionate outreach and factual research. He is a freshman at USC with a double major in History as well as Philosophy, Politics, and Law. Besides working on Trojan Shelter, Michael is an editor for the USC Journal of Political Science through Trojan Advocates for Political Progress and is a member of the club fencing team. When Michael is not reading or writing for school or an organization, he likes to spend time with his classmates, practice fencing, or explore the Los Angeles Area. A Southern California native, Michael joined Trojan Shelter because he has seen the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles for his entire life and believes that the best way to effect change is through both informing the public and taking direct action – something that Trojan Shelter allows him to do.