About two thirds of homeless people struggle with an alcohol or drug abuse problem. Finding housing can be difficult for people who are in active addiction. And, treatment and recovery services are hard to find when living on the street, thereby creating a cycle of homelessness and addiction from which it’s almost impossible to escape.
An estimated 20 to 25 percent of all homeless people have some type of mental illness. It’s difficult to keep a job when you’re dealing with constant mental health issues. Just as with substance abuse, people with mental illness often have trouble finding housing and treatment. They also may need extra health care and assistance with everyday activities— help that is not readily available in shelters.
About half of all homeless women are fleeing an abusive relationship, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. When 100 homeless mothers were surveyed in 2003, one quarter said they had been physically abused within the past year. Battered women’s shelters, when they are available, provide a safe haven for victims of abuse.
Children, too, run away from home because of physical or sexual abuse. One study found that nearly half of all runaway youths had been physically abused, and almost 20 percent had been sexually abused. Sadly, the abuse doesn’t end when children leave home. Many homeless kids are the victims of violent attacks. And some are forced into having sex to pay for food, shelter or clothing.
The scars of armed conflict extend far beyond the borders of a war zone. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Most are single men, and nearly half have mental illness or substance abuse problems. Many are struggling with the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers some programs, it can only accommodate about 25 percent of homeless veterans.