The Pursuit of Happyness
One of the many holiday movies opening this winter is The Pursuit of Happyness. This is not the typical holiday fare, nor one of those fluffy date movies, but rather a sobering film about a man who loses his job and becomes homeless with his young son. The Pursuit of Happyness movie features Will Smith as a homeless man who finally lands a position at a Dean Witter investment firm, only to find that his new position is actually an unpaid internship.
The Pursuit of Happyness presents a timely topic, especially when more and more salary surveys remind us how many people are one paycheck from being homeless. That alone may be hard to fathom in the richest country in the world, but there are more surprising facts about homelessness.
Real Life Facts About Homelessness
The statistics of homelessness nationwide are not exact, but there are an estimated 3 million homeless people – a third of them children – living on the streets of America. For those who might say those bums (and child bums?) should just “get a job,” Congresswoman Julia Carson (D-Indiana) estimates than more than half the homeless do have jobs.
While lack of employment does contribute to homelessness, as in The Pursuit of Happyness, joblessness is not the only cause; clinical research and the homeless themselves have pointed to many root causes. Nobody knows for sure how many people are one paycheck from being homeless, but it can happen in a heartbeat.
American families can be wiped out financially by medical bills. One catastrophic illness not covered by insurance (if you can afford coverage) is all it takes. You may lose your savings, face foreclosure and end up in a shelter. People with AIDS or terminal cancer are especially at risk, as their finances may not cover their medical treatment. They may end up having to choose between life or a roof over their heads.
Homeless Shelters in My Area, in My Town?
People can also become homeless because of substance abuse, or controlled substance laws which permit the seizing of all assets: homes, cars, bank accounts, etc. Also, an unexpected divorce or no child support payments can easily send a young mother and her children out onto the streets.
One of the little known facts about homeless people is that a sizable number of military families are on general relief (food stamps). The serviceman who returns from battle to his impoverished family may face physical disabilities and psychological wounds. The statistics on homelessness in America tell us that an estimated 200,000 veterans are on the streets on any given night, and a staggering 400,000 will experience homelessness this year.
The Pursuit of Happyness in Real Life
One of the most common known facts about homelessness is that a natural disaster can render large populations without homes. Hurricane Katrina left thousands of New Orleans residents desolate. While they were given trailers to live in, many faced homelessness again when FEMA threatened to evict them after their “time limit” ran out. It was only after widely publicized news reports that the hurricane victims were given more time. This is one example of how media coverage and movies like The Pursuit of Happyness can create awareness.
Job loss, like the kind illustrated in The Pursuit of Happyness, can certainly send someone down the path of homelessness, especially when it happens to older Americans who are less likely to be trained for new skills. The Pulitzer-Prize winning play Death of a Salesman has become a real life blueprint for many seniors trying to find work in an increasingly youth-oriented marketplace.
How to Prevent Homelessness
Congresswoman Julia Carson (D- Indiana) has proposed the Bringing America Home Act to increase funding for shelter, food and social services. But this bill to prevent homelessness has languished in Congress – while the number of homeless adults and children grows and grows. Until legislation relieves this growing malady, there are steps that people can take to prevent homelessness or survive it.
How long could you last financially if you lost your job? Find out with our salary survey.