Resident sitting on bed.

“Why are people homeless?”

I was asked a simple question recently, “Why are people homeless?”  If we consider homelessness a problem we should solve, the answer is important.

Although there are a myriad of contributing factors, the fundamental answer is simple. Insufficient resources.

For decades I’ve heard people claim that mental health issues and alcohol and chemical dependency issues “cause” homelessness. These challenges are obviously strong contributors and often catalysts for negative outcomes for many people. But if they were the fundamental cause of homelessness, many doctors, lawyers and other professionals who have serious mental health and dependency issues would be homeless. What troubled professionals mostly have, that homeless people do not, is access to resources. This includes access to enough resources early in life that increased their ability to have or bring resources consistently into their lives despite personal problems.

If we think of our self as a bank, then if we are undercapitalized early in life we move down our path with a bank account closer to zero. Some people are fortunate to have enough access to educational and human resources that allow them to grow their “account” to a reasonable and sustainable level. But if I start without many monetary and personal resources, it doesn’t take much to drop my account balance below zero. Since housing is a commodity, that means I am homeless. Unfortunately, we have too many people who have a dearth of “banked” resources, including an incapacity — a physical, social or technical competency dearth — to earn enough to survive in today’s economic system.

I have had people say to me, “The homeless have always been with us. They will always be with us.”  No.  NO!  That’s just not true. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and we did NOT have homelessness in this country then like we have it today. Yes, there were vagabonds who rode the rails. Yes, yes, there are a handful of people who are homeless because they want to be. But truly, that’s a very small group.

But homeless children and families? Thousands of homeless vulnerable adults and a growing set of homeless seniors?  No.

And it’s not necessary. We have plenty of resources in this country to solve the problem. How should those resources be applied? We already know the answer, don’t we?

Build resources into our people at a young age through love, social and technical education and training. Open doors of opportunity for almost all, by making sure that with just a little education and training a person can earn enough to live a reasonable life. Mitigate the negative impact of mental health and dependency issues — and aging — through adequate and consistent health care and support.

And, of course, ensure that we have enough quality affordable housing for all individuals and families.

That’s the world we’re aiming for at Aeon.

Thank you for helping make home possible for so many people who would otherwise not have that opportunity.

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    So well said, Alan!

  • Teiawana Burton says:

    Well, I’ve used resources, HAD Good jobs. I was able to buy my daughter and I a home, and a Brand New car. But, that was in the 90’s before the financial crisis happened that Minneapolis WAS known for. Got laid off SEVERAL times. Now, sharing a 1 bedroom with my now GROWN daughter sleeping in the livingroom. We split the rent of a 2 bedroom. The problem is we can’t afford month to month rent in hopes for availability or waiting on Minneapolis Housing to finally send me a letter. Been on the list 3yrs this past December, Yet they’re building these BIG TIME HIGHRISES downtown. SOMEBODY has money and just don’t want to help build up the communities. SAD, And refugees are litterolie are DYING TO LIVE HERE.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thank you for your comment, Teiawana. You’re right that there are numerous factors contributing to the problem with affordable housing today. Unfortunately, our city continues to lose more affordable homes, making it difficult for those already struggling to find stable housing. Over 10,000 Minnesotans will be homeless tonight. These are problems that the Twin Cities need to address and find solutions to before the issue worsens.

  • pamela says:

    Thank you! Am working on a film re: homelessness in L.A. I used to work with the homeless; was once asked for a newspaper: “What’s the single biggest cause?” I replied, “Lack of money.” It didn’t run in the paper…people want to believe the homeless are to blame…and sometimes they are. Sometimes.

    Compare this to the 1930’s…everyone knew what the reasons were then…

    • Stephanie Swenson says:

      Thank you, Pamela, for your comment. It’s important for communities to understand the various factors that cause homelessness, so we can work together to solve them.

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