Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

Survival on the Streets: Experiences of the Homeless Population and Constructive Suggestions for Assistance

Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

Survival on the Streets: Experiences of the Homeless Population and Constructive Suggestions for Assistance

Article excerpt

This phenomenological study explored the experiences and needs of 11 individuals of the homeless population. Results revealed 5 themes: need for employment, perceptions of needs, perceptions of programs and shelters, coping mechanisms, and perceptions of treatment. Counseling implications for practice are discussed.

Este estudio fenomenologico explore las experiencias y necesidades de 11 individuos de la poblacion sin techo. Los resultados revelaron 5 temas: la necesidad de empleo, las percepciones de sus necesidades, las percepciones de los programas y albergues, los mecanismos de afrontamiento y las percepciones de tratamiento. Se discuten las implicaciones para la practica de la consejeria.


It is estimated that 7.4% of the general U.S. population will be homeless at some time in their lives (Tompsett, Toro, Guzicki, Manrique, & Zatakia, 2006). Approximately 3.5 million people are homeless in the United States at any given time. However, this is likely an underestimation because these individuals may be difficult to count due to the nature of homelessness (Baggerly & Zalaquett, 2006). Many studies indicate that homelessness is increasing at a high rate and, therefore, previous estimates may no longer be relevant (Tompsett et al., 2006). Overall, two factors are seen as major contributors to homelessness (Burt, 2003). The first factor includes societal trends such as employment opportunities, housing expenses, and availability of quality education. The second factor includes individual issues such as disabilities, addiction, domestic violence, and natural disasters. Public policies affect both the societal and individual factors because these policies typically allocate funds to those in need (Burt, 2003). Therefore, more effective polices may need to be implemented to appropriately meet the needs of the homeless population on both the societal and individual levels.

The homeless population is disproportionately comprised of African Americans, and, therefore, improved policies and more assistance may need to be offered to this homeless population. According to the 2004 United States Conference of Mayors Study, 49% of the homeless population was African American, followed by 35% European American, 13% Latino American, 2% Native American, and 1% Asian American (Congressional Research Service, 2005). This study also noted that 23% of homeless people are labeled mentally ill, and approximately 30% of homeless people abuse substances. According to Wong (2002), homeless individuals experience symptoms of depression and anxiety at a greater rate than the general population.

Federal government assistance to the homeless population is a relatively new concept (Congressional Research Service, 2005). The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 was passed in order to assist the homeless population by providing shelter, food, health care, and education (Liese, 2006). To date, this is the only federal legislation that addresses homelessness. However, budget cuts and the ever-increasing homeless population have prevented this legislation from being successful.

Despite the lack of federal government assistance, there are numerous national, state, and community programs designed to assist the homeless population (e.g., The Salvation Army, The Union Mission). In addition, in 2003, Congress set a national goal to end chronic homelessness within 10 years (Coates, 2007). However, even with these programs and goals, Coates (2007) questioned how well the needs of the homeless population are actually being met. He argued that many cities attempt to criminalize (e.g., issuing tickets) individuals of the homeless population for sleeping in public or begging instead of assisting them (Liese, 2006). These efforts to police may be counterproductive; research has shown that the cost of a bed in a shelter ranges from $3 to $40 per night, whereas a night in jail costs approximately $70 (Coates, 2007). …

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