The stories we, as a country, often promote are of rags-to-riches tale, the American Dream, Hollywood, the democratization. Yet, poverty is something our nation takes pains to ascribe to any other parts of the world. However, dire poverty goes on in this nation. In fact, a little over half a million people are homeless on any given night in the United States (The State Of Homelessness). In this half a million population, approximately 4,177 people are homeless in just Portland, roughly 6% are children (Harbarger).
Homelessness affects the lives of all Oregonians, not just those that were forced to live on the streets accompanied by the pouring rain and cold or the brilliant sun and debilitating heat. Regardless of the weather, being homeless in whatever season is not a walk in the park. But along with the weather, there’s also the health concerns. Perhaps health issues can contribute to poverty and homelessness, however, experiencing poverty and homelessness may also contribute to health concerns. Approximately 80 people died on the streets of Portland in 2016 (Harbarger). Deaths due to hypothermia or heat stroke are not uncommon, neither is health issues stemming from substance abuse or mental illness. There is also a prevalent population of homeless that suffers hypertension and diabetes compared to the general population as well (Bernstein).
These conditions all contribute to the significant premature mortality in the homeless population. However, most of these deaths could have easily been avoided, but factors such as extreme poverty, inadequate access to healthcare, nonadherence to treatments, and the health effects of homelessness itself contribute to this health risk. For this reason, additional health care and housing assistances will be needed to meet the rapid, growing homeless population. While the city of Portland has been attempting to tackle the problem by investing in shelters and other services to help the homeless population, perhaps it isn’t enough to move people out of homelessness. Despite the millions spent over time, the comprehensive solutions have proven elusive. So if we want to end this social concern, we need to look into prevention, rather than just solutions.
This could include educational programs, interventions designed to address problems that may consequently contribute to homelessness, well before they arise. Various factors may contribute to one’s risk of homelessness, as mentioned earlier, however, some factors will be more prevalent in certain communities than others. This will aid in the decisions on whom to target for prevention assistance. Thus, the predictive factors will allow us to screen those with high homelessness risk and target resources towards the highest-risk individuals. While it is obvious that living without a permanent roof has serious impacts on the health and well-being of individual, homelessness is also a community issue.
As the number of those living in the shelters or on the streets in search of a place to lay their heads continues to exponentially grow, the community is affected by the increased in demands on services and supports. While advocates for the homeless insist that we need more tolerance for the city’s homeless population, the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) behavior is quite prevalent. There’s no doubt that when large numbers of people congregate in areas not meant to support the needs of homeless, public disorder such as loitering, public urination, trash, etc., can ensue. Hence, the NIMBY phenomenon. Yet, where then, does that leave us, when even the most basic of human rights – food security and clean water – are denied to people? In fact, it’s a situation that is becoming more dire with every passing day that opposing to help will not solve this issue and will continue to affect the community.
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