What Causes Homelessness?

So many of us understand homelessness in a black and white way: that the people we see living on the street or in shelters are drug addicts, convicts, or people with mental health conditions who chose to be there.


This stereotype is one which many of us are akin to believing. But what if we told you that homelessness is way more complex than that?

There are at least six major causes of homelessness in the U.S., with the leading cause being a lack of affordable housing. In fact, the high cost of housing and living in New Jersey contributes to the nearly 10,000 people facing homelessness and housing insecurity. A New Jersey renter would need to make $29.69 per hour to afford all monthly living expenses; this is known as a living wage. But most renters make about $10 per hour less than that.


The cost of housing unfortunately continues to increase, and when coupled with job loss, the inability to find work, and an overall stagnation in wage increases, it can negatively impact just about anyone – even you and me!


This disparity between wages and the cost of housing often leaves families with little-to-no savings for emergencies, and as a result, they could experience housing instability at the drop of a hat. Before the pandemic, 40% of Americans said they were one paycheck away from losing their home. Imagine how many can say the same now, during the public health and housing crisis?

This leads us into the second leading cause of homelessness, which is poverty.


Poverty is experienced when an individual or family doesn’t make enough to afford basic necessities, like housing, food, and healthcare. There are multiple ways to define and categorize poverty, but for now, let’s look at how situational and generational poverty affect homelessness.

Just as homelessness can be temporary, poverty can be situational. Unlike generational poverty, which is often long-lasting, situational poverty is usually experienced after a life-altering event, like losing a job or dealing with severe health problems.


According to the Urban Institute, 1 in 7 Americans are likely to be living below the poverty line in 2021. Since the start of the pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, filed for unemployment, and/or have endured health complications due to COVID-19. Without the means to pay their bills and months’ worth of rental rears, over 62,000 New Jersey residents may lose their home when the eviction moratorium is lifted.


Many residents will likely experience housing insecurity and homelessness for the first time this year. To mitigate this crisis, Family Promise of Morris County has shifted our Outreach efforts to focus on housing, and keeping housed, families and individuals that are unsheltered or at risk of losing their home. As the pandemic continues, and as always, we are fully committed to increasing the overall housing, health, and economic outcomes within our community.

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