Did you know that in the United States, more than 554,000 people experience homelessness, and about 1.5 million people use homeless shelters? Homelessness is a complex social issue that involves a variety of economic and social factors, such as poverty, physical and mental health, addictions, and abuse. Many people expect homeless shelters to provide for the basic necessities of homeless shelters. However, most homeless shelters are filthy and lack basic necessities like hot water and functioning toilets; thus, they ultimately worsen the physical and mental conditions of homeless people.
So, until current accommodations are improved, the government should not establish additional shelters for homeless people because the shelters are extremely dirty and amplify negative consequences, such as disease, throughout communities.
Some may claim that a homeless shelter is the most efficient and simple way to solve the issue of homelessness. The idea of shutting all homeless people inside shelters is an immediate way to get them out of the streets and communities. However, this viewpoint fails to consider the perspectives of those who actually live in the shelters, and whether or not these shelters truly provide humane assistance.
The Courtyard is Orange County’s largest shelter, and a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that “seven people have died in the shelter since it opened in 2016” due to poor sanitary conditions. Some of the dysfunctions of homeless shelters in Orange County range from filth and crowding to even sexual harassment by the shelter staff. Imagine being one of the residents, hoping for a clean place to lie down for the night but instead experiencing horrendous conditions including mice, bedbugs, lice, broken showers, and filthy restrooms – an environment not much better than the streets. Instead of providing homeless people with safe shelter, these homeless shelters increase the risk of death for the residents.
Furthermore, those who support homeless shelters could argue that homeless shelters improve physical or mental conditions of the homeless simply by providing them a place to stay. This viewpoint may be true to some extent – that the shelters do keep the homeless from the streets. However, this perspective fails to consider that it’s almost impossible for homeless people to get better because the crowded environment of the shelters facilitates the spread of disease.
According to a report from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, “living in homeless shelters aggravates existing health problems and creates new ones.” Those who experience these shelters therefore have a higher risk of contracting diseases, potentially also affecting communities nearby and putting others in danger. It is ironic that the government believes homeless shelters help the homeless and surrounding communities when they actually encourage dirty conditions and the spread of disease to the homeless themselves and those around them.
Ultimately, the current solution actually makes the problem worse. Therefore, we should ask our state representatives to vote to halt establishment of new homeless shelters until the current ones are improved, because they bring about more danger for the homeless and surrounding communities rather than saving them.
Sungmin Stella Kim, Grade 10
Northwood High School