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Essay on Homelessness in Pennsylvania

Homelessness is a very significant social issue that has plagued the world since the dawn of mankind. The steady increase of America’s homeless population has led to the rise of community response to the problem, with mixed results. Check this sample essay on this important social problem, just one of the custom writing services offered by Ultius.

Homelessness in Pennsylvania

Homelessness is an issue that has evolved over the years from a personal concern to a social problem. The definition of homeless states that homeless individuals are:

Those who do not have a regular and adequate nighttime residence can be broadened to include those who are in temporary residences such as weekly rentals or are staying with family members.

The broadening of the definition can allow more individuals to receive services. Conflict theory has often been used as a means by which to understand the problem as well. Before the problem can be solved an understanding of the causes is essential. Through this analysis, a better understanding of the homeless population in Pennsylvania and all over the nation can be developed.

Homelessness evolves from an anomaly to a serious issue

Decades ago the homeless population was seen as a personal family concern. These individuals were seen as largely being middle aged men who had chosen to live a life of vagrancy by abandoning their responsibilities. Over the years as mental health institutions were deinstitutionalized there was an increase in the homeless population of individuals who are no longer cared for by mental health agencies or these families. The increase in the homeless population brought the issue to the forefront as communities began to see the homeless out on the streets while previously they may have been confined to certain parts of town. These communities have also seen the homeless population affect their local economies which has resulted in a call to action to eradicate the homeless from their towns.

Homelessness ignored as a social issue

Despite the prevalence of the problem, homelessness is a social issue which is largely ignored. Communities seek to just remove the homeless from their areas rather than attempting to solve the problem. The homeless population have few resources and services available to them. Jails and temporary shelters largely house the population and send them back out into the streets in a never ending cycle. Homelessness is a problem which affects various facets of a community from families to school systems to local government agencies. The homeless population can be comprised of:

  • Those who have mental health issues
  • Veterans
  • Those who have aged out of the foster care systems
  • Ex-inmates
  • Those who chosen to live the life on the streets

The recent recession has also changed the look of the homeless as many families have been displaced from their home by foreclosures.

“In 2008, many families in America’s cities lost their homes due to foreclosure, while market-rate housing remains unaffordable for low-income wage earners and long waiting lists exist for subsidized rental housing” (Hunger, 2013).

The way in which homelessness affects others provides compelling reasons for finding ways to not just put a band-aid on the problem but to attempt to fix the problem.

Numbers of homeless

Statistics regarding homelessness demonstrate the daunting nature of the problem. The National Alliance to End Homelessness has found that 633,782 people are homeless.

  • 239,403 are families (This disputes the stereotypical portrayal of the individual homeless man out on the street)
  • 392, 945 are individuals.

Alliance also found that 16% of the population are considered chronically homeless in that the individuals find themselves in a cycle of homelessness. These numbers can be disputed as it can be difficult to accurately measure a population who have no set location and may be unwilling to engage with others. This demonstrates the difficulty of not only gathering adequate statistics about the population but also attempting to do research on a problem in which the full extent of who is affected is not understood. Communities will do counts of the homeless on a regular basis in order to gather this information and qualify for funding from the government to provide assistance to the homeless.

Racial breakdown of homelessness

The kinds of individuals who find themselves homeless can be found on a wide and varied spectrum which can range from age of the individual to the reasons why they are homeless. The National Coalition for the Homeless found that the age of a homeless individual could range from early childhood to the elderly. The coalition found:

  • 39% of the homeless population are children
  • 25% of the homeless population are those between the ages of 25-34
  • 6% of the homeless population are individuals ranging from 55-64

This could be attributed to the fact that women and children account for most of the individuals who are considered in poverty level. Despite the prevalence of women in the poverty level they do not comprise most of the population of homeless. According to the Hunger and Homelessness Survey conducted by the US conference of Mayors, 67% of the homeless are comprised of males. The survey also found that minorities are highly over represented in the homeless population and found that:

  • 39% are Caucasian
  • 42% are African-American
  • 13% are Hispanic

These numbers are staggering as Caucasians represent 75% of the population yet they are only 39% of the homeless population.

Other contributing factors to homeless numbers

Reasons for why homelessness occurs can also be found in the statistics. Domestic violence victims are comprised of 50% of the homeless families according to the US conference of Mayors report.  Mental illness is another major cause of homelessness and its prevalence can be seen in the statistics.

“The 23 cities that provided information reported that 26 percent of their homeless population suffered from a serious mental illness. By contrast, only six percent of the U.S. population suffers from a serious mental illness” (U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008).

Being a veteran has also been seen as a cause of homelessness as 40% of the homeless male population are veterans according to the National coalition of the homeless.

Victims of abuse bolster the homeless numbers

People suffering from substance abuse problems are also seen as a large percentage of the homeless population. However this number can be difficult to ascertain due to the reluctance of individuals to admit to substance abuse problems. The US conference of Mayors has found that 30% of the homeless population has substance abuse problems. Of those percentages 38% report problems with alcohol while 26% report problems with other illegal substances. These numbers provide an examination of the homelessness problem on a broader scale. In order to provide a better understanding of the problem the statistics of an individual’s own community could be analyzed.

Homelessness extends beyond urban centers

While homelessness mainly occurs in cities the problem can exist in rural areas such as Centre County, PA. Only 6% of the homeless population is usually found in rural areas. In Centre County it appears that these numbers it is even less as only 0.8% of the population receive homeless assistance. These numbers may not accurately reflect the homeless population as many homeless individuals may not seek the assistance they need. The lack of seeking assistance may also be a reflection of the county itself as despite an 18 % poverty rate only 0.3% of the population in Centre County, PA receive cash assistance. The county is more well off than other counties in the rural Pennsylvania area as the average income is $63,747 and the unemployment rate is 5.3%. These numbers coupled with the limited data that exists regarding homelessness may indicate that homelessness is not an issue which Centre County has to combat.

Aid for the homeless

These numbers are also reflective of the state of Pennsylvania in general as the homelessness rate is only 0.12% and has a homeless population of 14,516. Out of this homeless population, 13,418 individuals are in some form of a shelter or recieving some other form of welfare. This demonstrates that while Pennsylvania may only have a small problem of homelessness, the problem that they do have is being resolved through the extensive use of shelters. In the town of Bellefonte, PA alone there are 4 different homeless shelters or agencies a homeless person could go to receive assistance. The assistance comes in the form of housing assistance which works to secure long term housing for the homeless. The agencies also work to resources so that the homeless can receive food and cash assistance. An area of need which could not be found easily was access to agencies who would be able to assist the homeless with job hunting. Substance abuse and mental health are also areas in which extensive services need to be provided to the homeless population.

Response to homelessness

Through these responses to homelessness the problem could be addressed in some way as the issue affects multiple facets of a community.

Micro-level response: Family

On a micro level homelessness can have an impact on a family. If a family is having a difficult time economically they may lose their home. As many families now do not have a safety net or support system they may find themselves out on the street. Social service agencies are finding it a challenge to to work with these families as their homeless shelters and resources may only be equipped to deal with individual homeless clients. Families may also find that they have to deal with a family member who due to substance abuse or mental health issues is chronically homeless. If a community’s resources are inadequate to assist the homeless individual this can have a stressful effect on the family social and emotional well-being. As the large numbers of homeless individuals demonstrate the growing need of the population, the numbers also indicate the number of individuals who are affected by having a family member who is homeless. Through providing assistance to the homeless we are also providing assistance to the families of these individuals who may have had to deal with it alone.

Mezzo-level response: Schools

On a mezzo level communities organizations such as religious institutions or schools also have to deal with the issues of homelessness. Due to the view of homelessness as  a private issues for many years religious institutions were given the responsibility of dealing with the homeless population as the state would not provide many resources. The growing number of homeless individuals has strained the resources of these religious institutions who have to try and get funding for food or shelter that they may provide to the homeless. The schools must also accommodate to the needs of the homeless. The growing number of families who have become homeless has led to schools needing to make a change in their residency criteria. More students are now considered homeless as they reside in temporary shelters.

“The schools must also accommodate the students who are considered homeless by providing food assistance through free lunch which can increase the cost of maintaining homeless children in the system” (Perlman, 2012).

The schools must also address the issues of teaching students who are dealing with transiency and may have trouble learning when they are worried about having a roof over their head.

Macro-level response: The government

On a macro level local governments must deal with the homelessness issue on many fronts. The local government must ensure that the homeless population are not affecting the local economy by ensuring that they are not loitering around businesses which has to involve more law enforcement which can lead to altercations and violent reposnses against law enforcement officers. The government must also provide assistance to the homeless by ensuring that they have the resources they need through diverting necessary funding to agencies which provide services to the homeless. The government must also pass legislation which protects the rights of homeless individuals. If the issue of homelessness is combated through long term goals and policies the local government would save resources over time.


Homelessness is a social problem that affects multiple individuals, communities and organizations within these communities. Since homelessness touches so many lives and areas it is a problem that needs to addressed. The agencies and resources that are currently available only serve to create short term solutions to the problem of homelessness. While statistics and facts are an important tool to utilize in order to understand the depth of the problem of homelessness, other methods can be utilized to put a human face on the problem. Qualitative tools, such as interviews, can also provide insight into the major causes of homelessness. Through research and longer term commitment, the homeless population programs can be developed that will serve to reduce the impact of the issue.


“Centre County Profile.” (2013) County Profiles. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania. N.p. Retrieved from:

“Hunger and Homelessness Survey.” (2008) US Conference of Mayors. N.p. Retrieved from:

Perlman, S., & Willard, J. (2012). Estimated Annual Cost of Child Homelessness in Pennsylvania.

“Snapshot of Homelessness.” (2013) National Alliance to End Homelessness:. N.p. Retrieved from:

“Who Is Homeless?” (2009) National Coalition for the Homeless. N.p. Retrieved from:

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