As humans, one of our most basic needs is shelter. Having a place to come home to every day provides stability, safety, and dignity.
While safe shelter should be considered a human necessity, the truth is that homelessness is all too common in our society. Though many organizations (like ours!) exist to combat the problem, we know that the root of the issue lies in the way our society is structured.
The way that our society works is that you have to work to live well. If you work, you get money and can afford shelter. If you can’t work, struggle to keep a job, or have a low-paying career, it’s likely you’ll face homelessness, health impacts, food instability, and more.
There are several problems with this structure. It assumes your needs directly correspond to your ability to work. It requires you to have no barriers or challenges to working. It expects you to have been born into a stable financial situation. And, it assumes that everyone, no matter what they look like or where they come from, has an equal chance at making equal money to get that housing and stability.
Let’s dig into why this isn’t the case and why no one should have to “earn” a place to live. Housing should be a basic human right.
It’s Hard To Contribute When You Aren’t Getting Your Basic Needs Met
Right off the bat, you need to have your needs met in order to live well. You can’t help anyone else or contribute if you aren’t fed, rested, housed, and healthy.
But the way our society works throws it in reverse. We say that before an individual can have any of these things–food, rest, a place to live, health care, etc.–they must work for it and earn it.
This is a vicious cycle. We’re not giving people the tools to get their needs met before we demand they contribute to society. We need a system that realizes that people are individuals with individual needs, and provides each person with basic necessities.
Many Face Barriers to Keeping Housing
Not everyone is able to work the same amount. People with a serious mental illness, disability, health issue, or other condition may not be able to work very much or at all. Or, they may need accommodations that they aren’t given.
The question here is: should those people be doomed to homelessness, or have no community support because they can’t work or earn money?
The obvious answer is no. No one should be forced to be useful in order to be able to survive. Since many people have barriers to keeping housing, it shouldn’t have to be earned.
Housing: The Luck of the Draw
To dig into this, let’s rewind and think about the way people get housing in the first place.
When you’re born, you’re dropped into a specific financial situation. And your family’s financial situation can determine many aspects of your future, including how and where you live as a child and adult.
But the situation you were born into wasn’t something you got to choose, or something you earned. Because of this, some people end up coming into the world having more money and more of a chance at success than others.
That bleeds into the future and can mean that the financial situation you grew up in affects how much land or space you own. Or, whether you have a place to live at all. According to a Minnesota study on homelessness, 36% of homeless adults became homeless at or before the age of 18. Clearly, generational poverty has a hand in determining one’s ability to have a place to live.
Gaining wealth isn’t fair amongst all groups of people, either. Discrimination due to gender, race, sexual orientation, and other demographic categories can affect how much wealth you have and how much income you make.
The average white family is eight times wealthier than the average Black family and five times wealthier than the average Hispanic family. White families are more likely to receive financial support or inheritances from family than Black or Hispanic families.
Income inequality is persistent between gender and racial groups. The average white man makes $21 an hour, while the average Black man makes $15 an hour, and the average Black woman makes $13 an hour. The study recorded that Hispanic women made the lowest average hourly wage at $12 an hour. In 2020, across all races, women’s earnings were 84% of what men earned.
This can translate into inequality in housing. In 2016, 72% of white families were homeowners, compared to 44% of Black families. Black Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population, making up 40% of people experiencing homelessness, while only making up 13% of the total U.S. population. According to a Minnesota homelessness study, Native Americans are likely overrepresented in the Minnesota homeless population as well.
The game is stacked against certain groups of people so they don’t have a fair chance at housing. Systems built on inequity result in disparities. We need to change how we think about housing and homelessness in order to solve it. We need to see housing as a human right.
Guild Serves People Experiencing Homelessness
At Guild, we know how to solve homelessness. Our array of housing services help our clients find and maintain a place to live. We believe that everyone is worthy of safety, shelter, and stability. And we’re not going to stop working until that happens.
Interested in donating to our lifesaving services? Click here!
Homelessness in Minnesota, Wilder Research.
Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Study of Consumer Finances, The Federal Reserve.
Racial, Gender Wage Gaps Persist in U.S. Despite Some Progress, Pew Research Center.
Gender Pay Gap in U.S. Held Steady in 2020, Pew Research Center.
Dreams Deferred, Inequality.org
2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.