It's no secret that homelessness is a significant problem that affects hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
In a recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it was revealed that more than 326,000 people slept in homeless shelters on any given night in 2021. However, this figure does not account for the tens of thousands of additional homeless who choose to live in encampments or regularly sleep on the streets and other public locations.
A survey of the U.S. homeless population in January 2020 showed that the number of homeless individuals is closer to 600,000 nationwide. That number has likely gone up considerably and will continue to climb as the cost of rent rises sharply, and people can no longer afford to stay in their homes.
While we often think of homelessness being concentrated in urban areas, many small towns across America are now seeing a surge in the local homeless population due to rising housing costs. For example, a new report from Centre County, Pennsylvania, indicated that homeless shelters are full or beyond capacity.
In other small towns like Ashville, North Carolina, the pervasiveness of homeless camps on public and private property has become such a significant safety issue that the city had to enact a new policy. Asheville police stated that "ten percent of all city crime over the last two years took place within 500 feet of homeless encampments."
While homeless individuals are being forced to find somewhere to stay at night, sometimes there just isn't anywhere to go. If shelters are full, what options are left?
In California, the housing crisis has gotten so out of control that local officials are encouraging people to "take in the homeless" if they have extra room in their homes.
Many charities are also urging private citizens to open up their homes to those who currently have no other place to go. For example, the nonprofit organization Safe Time works to place families experiencing homelessness in private homes for one to six months.
While it is clear that the homeless crisis in America needs a solution, calling on private residents to bring strangers into their homes does not seem to be a viable long-term solution.
While many homeless individuals are simply the victims of "falling on hard times" and should not be stigmatized, many others are dealing with severe mental health and substance abuse issues that an ordinary resident does not have the experience to handle safely.
Inviting a stranger into your home out of the kindness of your heart may seem like a nice thing to do, but it could open you up to significant safety and legal issues. While homelessness is a complex issue, it is clear that public officials need to come up with a better solution than simply relying on the kindness of residents to solve their problems for them.
What do you think?
Do you think it is reasonable for public officials to ask residents to invite homeless individuals and families into their homes?
Is this something you would consider doing?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.