Homeless In America, Whose Fault Is It?

Some people are quick to blame homeless people as being responsible for their plight. Stories that "they are bums, or can't get a job" are not uncommon. I have always held the view that life's vicissitudes play a role in this humiliating incident. Divorce is part of it. I read a story of a Medical Doctor in California (I think), who was homeless. Now, nobody would believe this story, but I read it in Parade magazine. A malpractise lawsuit, coupled with a traumatic event ofa divorce forced this lady to become homeless. Thankfully, she rebounded from this heart breaking experience.

Others are not so lucky.

San Francisco has attained notoriety in the USA as a haven for homeless people. Some blame the city officials for being too lenient with the homeless, by offering them money just for being homeless. The temperate weather of the bay area, all makes it more enticiing for some of them to migrate to the bay area. I personally watched a local TV news show about a homeless man who relocated to California, on account of the weather. But don't get me wrong though, I have talked to several individuals who were homeless, and when I suggested shelter, they just shook their head. On the advice of one of them, I visited the shelter and was dismayed by their deplorable condition. This year again, I visited another one in Sunnyvale, and I was quite impressed by the orderliness, the sanitary conditions, a far cry from the previous one that I visited.

But there is a time frame for this homeless people to stay in the shelter and gain independence by leaving the place. Those most vulnerable to being homeless are mainly single parents, mostly working minimum wage jobs, immigrants, women and children. The kindness of charitable organizations during the holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving always gain some publicity in the media. Now, the tables have turned. Society can be cruel. 60 minutes aired a documentary on some teenagers in Florida beating up a homeless man. Those kids were sentenced to jail.

Another incident again in the bay area just confirmed my beliefs that most people, given a choice, would rather prefer to live in their comforts of their homes, than to be homeless.

Below is the link.


So, how can homelessness be eradicated in our society? Money alone can't eradicate it, it is an uphill task, but surely, it will go a long way in building affordable homes to those in dire need of it.

12 answers

all those northern beggars who stay on the streets are sheltered?


Is homelessness that prevalent in Nigeria? I thought that our strong network of family unit would be a barrier to being homeless. I may be wrong though. USA is worse, because of the cold weather.

About the segment on Oprah's show about the homeless man, I culled this on the internet.



Proof that some homeless people have jobs, but are edged out of the housing market, because of astronomical prices.

Christine, left, Jhavona, center, and Bebe Fuller accept gifts from bus driver Ted Smith. Being homeless during the holidays can be particularly grim, but this month Fuller and her children have received several gifts from charitable residents.

By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Christine Fuller finds holiday kindness at unexpected moments, such as before sunrise at a bus stop 7 miles from the White House.

A bus driver sees her switching buses each weekday morning at 6:15 with four neatly dressed children, ages 6 to 10, as she escorts them to a before-school program. The driver lauds their behavior and says he wants to give each child a Christmas present.

Fuller doesn't know his name. He doesn't know hers. She says presents would be fine.

The bus driver also doesn't know that Fuller and her children are homeless. They've been living at a shelter since September. Fuller has a full-time job that pays her $23,000 a year but says she can't afford an apartment in this affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where a typical two-bedroom apartment rents for $1,225 a month.

The problem of poverty and homelessness — and how difficult it is to escape — is poignantly illustrated in the hit movie ThePursuit of Happyness, which stars Will Smith and his son, Jaden.

At least 2 million Americans, many of whom have jobs and families, are homeless at some point over the course of a year, says Philip Mangano, executive director of the White House's Interagency Council on Homelessness.

"It's very traumatic for children," Mangano says.

It can be particularly so in a place like Falls Church and surrounding Fairfax County, one of the nation's wealthiest areas with a median household income of $94,600.

Fuller, 32, tries to ward off any trauma by focusing on routines and maintaining dignity in tough circumstances.

Her day starts at 3:45 a.m., in the two-bedroom, 300-square-foot unit her family occupies at Shelter House, a county facility that can house seven families.

Fuller gets ready for her job as a dispatch assistant at a courier service, then at 5 a.m. wakes her boys, William, 10, and Isaiah, 7. After she gets them going, she rouses the girls, Beatrice, 8, and Jhavona, 6.

"Mom, our life is so boring," she says the kids tell her. "You sound like a drill sergeant."

They're out the door by 5:45 a.m. with a snack in hand to catch the first public bus. They switch buses before arriving at a before-school program that opens at 6:30 a.m. The kids have subsidized breakfast and lunch at school.

"My 7-year-old knows every bus route," says Fuller, sitting on a vinyl couch in her unit's small living area.

After dropping off the kids, she boards another bus to get to her job, which she has held for three years, by 7:30 a.m. She works until 5 p.m. and then takes a bus to pick up her kids at an after-school program. She pays $177 monthly for the child care. The unsubsidized cost for four kids in similar programs in Fairfax County is $1,500.

Being homeless during the holidays can be particularly grim, but this month Fuller and her children have received several gifts from charitable residents, from dolls to firetrucks to a microwave oven. Such gifts reflect both the generosity of individuals and the same community wealth that has hindered Fuller's ability to find her own place to live.

"Apartments cost a lot here," says Fuller, a never-married high school dropout who has six children in all. The two oldest — a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl — live with a family friend in a nearby town and are in their high school's marching band.

Fuller says she can't move to a more affordable city or distant suburb because her job is near downtown Washington and she has no car. Despite the difficulty of living in such an expensive area, she's also reluctant to go elsewhere because she grew up here, and her mother and grandparents live nearby.

Fuller receives child support from the father of one of her children. She doesn't know where one of the fathers is, and another helps out with child care on weekends. But when it comes to finances, she's largely on her own.

Families without homes

Families with children make up about 40% of the nation's homeless people, according to a USA TODAY analysis of government data. Those in homeless families represent about 55% of the roughly 2,000 homeless people in Fairfax, which has about 1 million residents.

More than half the single homeless adults in Fairfax are white, while 65% of those in homeless families are African-American, according to a county report released this month.

Two of every five homeless adults in Fairfax works, says Gerry Connolly, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. "A lot of people benefit from our vibrant economy, but others are cut out," he says. He cites the loss of hundreds of affordable housing units during the recent real estate boom.

"When you meet the (homeless) children, your heart breaks," Connolly says, "because they haven't done anything to deserve it."

He says Fairfax, like many jurisdictions across the nation, has stepped up efforts to find more places for the homeless to stay, either through their friends and relatives or churches, motels and shelters. It doesn't always work. He says some people live in their cars.

"We've even had people living in the woods under tarps," he says.

For most of her life, Fuller lived with her grandparents in a three-bedroom house in nearby Arlington County. When the grandparents moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, officials said it was too small for Fuller and her children to also live there, so she spent six months in a shelter. She moved into a three-bedroom basement apartment in Fairfax County, but officials there deemed it a fire hazard.

Fuller and her four youngest children then spent three months in a motel room paid for by Fairfax County before a unit became available at Shelter House.

"We're helping the working homeless," shelter director Joe Meyer says.

The children "know this isn't their own place," Fuller says. They can't invite kids over for play dates or birthday parties. She adds that like many youths who struggle to cope with the trauma of being homeless, her children have suffered from mood swings, depression and other problems.

"I know I have to better myself for my kids," she says. She tells her kids to "stay in school, … stay out of jail, stay out of trouble."

Fuller says when she sees her 14-year-old daughter, she warns her: "Don't make the mistakes I made" by, among other things, getting pregnant while in high school.

At Shelter House, government workers make sure homeless families get food stamps as well as benefits from Medicaid and mental health and social services agencies. Parents such as Fuller must attend evening workshops on parenting, alcohol and drug awareness, financial planning and job-seeking skills.

Families are expected to stay no more than three months, but they can stay longer if they have no other housing options and make progress toward self-sufficiency, Meyer says. He says Fuller's family will be able to stay until she can get a subsidized apartment.

"They've been a great help," Fuller says. She initially chafed at the shelter's 10 p.m. curfew and visitor restrictions, but says she's learning to manage money better and pay off $5,000 in credit card debt.

Fuller says she's not buying Christmas toys for her children, only necessities. Sometimes they tease her, calling her "the Grinch."

Fairfax board Chairman Connolly's concern about the impact of homelessness on families is reflected in the waiting list for the 32 units the county has available at Shelter House and two other facilities. The list is approaching 90 families.

A report released last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that analyzed homelessness in 23 cities said that in most of the cities, some homeless families have to split up in order to find shelter.

"This is just unacceptable," says Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer, the conference's president.

The Conference of Mayors report says requests for shelter rose 9% last year in the 23 cities surveyed.

Housing affordability is the top problem, says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor of social welfare policy. He says the government needs to use tax credits to push more investors and developers to build affordable apartments. He says it's much cheaper to give a housing subsidy to a homeless family than to put the family in a shelter, which can cost $50,000 for a 14-month stay.

Mangano says federal spending on housing subsidies has risen in recent years, but the number of available units hasn't increased because of rising real estate prices.

Adding holiday cheer

While communities struggle to find solutions for homelessness, people such as Ginger Mahon are helping make the lives of homeless families a little better this time of the year by playing Santa.

Mahon, a PTA president in Great Falls, Va., a half-hour drive from Shelter House, asked her neighbors to "adopt" a homeless family for Christmas. She asked several shelters for wish lists of items that homeless people wanted and matched them with donors.

The Fullers are receiving not only a microwave but also an air hockey table, a $100 Target gift card, a blanket, pots, pans and dinnerware. Other families at the shelter are getting presents, including hundreds of dollars in gift cards.

"During the holidays, the community really reaches out," says Meyer, the shelter's director. He says people wanted to donate iPods last year, but he reminded them that shelter residents don't have computers to download songs.

On Thursday, Ted Smith, the bus driver who sees Fuller and her children each weekday, gave the kids huge bags of toys that he and his wife had bought. "You do good in school and thank the Lord for all you have," he told the youngsters.

Fuller says Beatrice and Jhavona had wanted dolls, and Isaiah asked for firetrucks. William wanted a Sony PlayStation 3, which costs at least $600, but he knew his mom couldn't afford it.

Fuller says William told her: "All I really want for Christmas is our own place."

Posted 12/21/2006 11:42 PM ET



Not only pitiful but also ironic that the same people the society venerates on veterans day are also homeless (some of them). What a tragedy!!!


You are so right on.

most war veterans end up with psychological trauma from war,become mentally ill,rely on alcohol to "forget" their sorrows,can't hold down a job and end up on the streets.

The same people we celebrate on veterans day are living on the streets.

How pitiful!!!


America has spent God knows how many billions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine that money in the economy?Would you have poor homeless people? I have seen poverty akin to that in Nigeria in the states and i for one would say people have no business being poor in responsible nations.


Sometimes you see people reluctant to give to the homeless because the person obviously drinks. Their worried about where there 3 dollars will go.

Pro 31:6 Give strong drink to him who is ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy hearts.

Pro 31:7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

I say first figure out if the people at the car lot drink the 250 dollars + money you give them each month. Ask the store clerks you buy clothes from, they get more than 3 dollars from you. Does the banker who collects your mortgage drink, any of his employees he uses your dollars to pay, do they drink?

If your truly worried about your money and where it is going, then worry about where the big part of your money is going, not the 3 dollars you give to some homeless person.


In the 1980's then president Reagen closed down a lot of mental facility's.

It led to this idea of watching the mentally ill walk around helpless to help them.

I just give all the sign holders money. An open mouth should get fed, the way I figure it.

Of course even the sign holders have learned that African Americans give more than any other group in America and so now Black neighborhoods are filled with white and black homeless beggers, they know we give more.

I don't mind. Praise God for the oppourtunity for me to give.


Ynot, I have never believed the study associating laziness to homelessness. I have had conversations with some of these homeless people, to facilitate a meaningful conversation and a few of the ones that I spoke with alluded their unfortunate circumstances to being injured at work. The link that I posted above corroborates my belief that people really don not choose to be homeless. On a cautious note, I met a homeless guy who told me that he preferred the outdoors over shelters because he is an outdoors person. But he did expressed concern though that the downfall of choosing this route (sleeping outside instead of the shelters) is the attacks that one is prone to receiving from cruel strangers.

60 minutes even did a segment about the perils of being homeless and showed a video of some youths attacking a homeless man with a bat (I think). The men were interviewed, white guys with a heart, darker than charcoal, and they could not give a plausible explanation for their act. I am sure they were sent to jail.


A study (i can't find the link) showed that 2/3 of homeless Americans are veteran. Thats why i can never understand the 'i support our troops' song by politicians/government. It seems once you are on uniform, we sing your praises. Get off the force and you are just another number - and on your own.

If true (i.e the study), you might argue that being homeless has a lot to do with the person's psychological state and not the good 'ol laziness. Treat their state of mind and they will get off the streets. But again, some people will infact rather sleep on the street even if you convert all the golf courses in this country to Hilton hotel for the homeless.


it would be better if we talked about homelessness in  Naija than America.  A homeless man who appeared on Oprah   found $100000 in a dumpster and went on a spending spree and became centless after some months.


most homeless people are mentally ill and drug addicted

It is unfortunate that soceity is unable to help these folks in any permanent way.

Many in the North East freeze to death in winter.

It is very saddening.

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