In Florida, the chronically unhoused population is the largest group of individuals experiencing homelessness. Most people faced with chronic homelessness have a physical or mental disability and are the most vulnerable individuals living on the streets. Did you know Florida has the third highest rate of individuals experiencing homelessness in America? As of 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America; of that, 27,487 were from Florida (Florida Coalition to End Homelessness 2022).
One of the leading factors to homelessness is unaffordable housing. In 1970, the US had more than five million low-cost rental units. Homelessness was not as prevalent during this time because even disadvantaged groups could afford some form of housing. As time passed, low-cost housing units have decreased significantly, and currently, Florida has a shortage of almost 500,000 low-cost housing units. Available housing units are so expensive that, in some cases, 30% or more of a person's income goes to housing, leaving them without other necessities.
Furthermore, Chronically unhoused individuals may suffer behavioral health challenges due to trauma or physical injury, substance abuse disorders, and mental illnesses. This demographic predominantly uses social services, crisis response, and emergency services on a recurring basis. Subsequently, the lack of treatment services for addiction and mental health is a significant cause of homelessness. In 2017, a study found that 38% of people experiencing homelessness used alcohol to cope with homelessness and other stresses they might be experiencing (HRC 2022). 26% of the same population abused various types of drugs. When funding was not allocated for psychiatric patients in community health centers, many individuals experiencing mental health crises became homeless.
So What Now? America can eradicate Homelessness, and, most importantly, we can prevent it. First, the government must ensure that all community health centers have access to mental health and substance abuse funding. If patients receive comprehensive health care services, the chances of breaking the addiction and mental illness cycle increase. Breaking the cycle means they are empowered to better manage themselves, their actions, and their choices, reducing the likeliness of ending up homeless. Additionally, Increasing the number of low-cost housing units will make housing affordable and accessible for low-income families and individuals. All these measures aim at preventing the eventuality of homelessness in disadvantaged groups. Moreover, programs for preventing homelessness must be efficient and on time. The immediate benefit of early intervention is that it saves costs and is later allocated for other valuable services. In other words, the later the intervention, the lower the success rate and the higher the costs.
Homeless prevention services are the cornerstone of a comprehensive strategy to end homelessness. They embody our shared responsibility to ensure that no one has to endure the harsh realities of life on the streets. As we continue to work towards a world without homelessness, let us remember that prevention is not just a solution but a moral imperative, a testament to our compassion and humanity. By supporting the Bautista Project and other grassroots organizations, we can make great strides toward the day when homelessness is a relic of the past and every individual has a place to call home.