5 Essays About Homelessness

Around the world, people experience homelessness. According to a 2005 survey by the United Nations, 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing. The causes vary depending on the place and person. Common reasons include a lack of affordable housing, poverty, a lack of mental health services, and more. Homelessness is rooted in systemic failures that fail to protect those who are most vulnerable. Here are five essays that shine a light on the issue of homelessness:

What Would ‘Housing as a Human Right’ Look Like in California? (2020) – Molly Solomon

For some time, activists and organizations have proclaimed that housing is a human right. This essay explores what that means and that it isn’t a new idea. Housing as a human right was part of federal policy following the Great Depression. In a 1944 speech introducing what he called the “Second Bill of Rights,” President Roosevelt attempted to address poverty and income equality. The right to have a “decent home” was included in his proposals. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration also recognizes housing as a human right. It describes the right to an “adequate standard of living.” Other countries such as France and Scotland include the right to housing in their constitutions. In the US, small local governments have adopted resolutions on housing. How would it work in California?

At KQED, Molly Solomon covers housing affordability. Her stories have aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and other places. She’s won three national Edward R. Murrow awards.

“What People Get Wrong When They Try To End Homelessness” – James Abro

In his essay, James Abro explains what led up to six weeks of homelessness and his experiences helping people through social services. Following the death of his mother and eviction, Abro found himself unhoused. He describes himself as “fortunate” and feeling motivated to teach people how social services worked. However, he learned that his experience was somewhat unique. The system is complicated and those involved don’t understand homelessness. Abro believes investing in affordable housing is critical to truly ending homelessness.

James Abro is the founder of Advocate for Economic Fairness and 32 Beach Productions. He works as an advocate for homeless rights locally and nationally. Besides TalkPoverty, he contributes to Rebelle Society and is an active member of the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness.

“No Shelter For Some: Street-Sleepers” (2019)

This piece (by an unknown author) introduces the reader to homelessness in urban China. In the past decades, a person wouldn’t see many homeless people. This was because of strict rules on internal migration and government-supplied housing. Now, the rules have changed. People from rural areas can travel more and most urban housing is privatized. People who are homeless – known as “street-sleepers” are more visible. This essay is a good summary of the system (which includes a shift from police management of homelessness to the Ministry of Civil Affairs) and how street-sleepers are treated.

“A Window Onto An American Nightmare” (2020) – Nathan Heller

This essay from the New Yorker focuses on San Francisco’s history with homelessness, the issue’s complexities, and various efforts to address it. It also touches on how the pandemic has affected homelessness. One of the most intriguing parts of this essay is Heller’s description of becoming homeless. He says people “slide” into it, as opposed to plunging. As an example, someone could be staying with friends while looking for a job, but then the friends decide to stop helping. Maybe someone is jumping in and out of Airbnbs, looking for an apartment. Heller’s point is that the line between only needing a place to stay for a night or two and true “homelessness” is very thin.

Nathan Heller joined the New Yorker’s writing staff in 2013. He writes about technology, higher education, the Bay Area, socioeconomics, and more. He’s also a contributing editor at Vogue, a former columnist for Slate, and contributor to other publications.

“Homelessness in Ireland is at crisis point, and the vitriol shown towards homeless people is just as shocking” (2020)#- Megan Nolan

In Ireland, the housing crisis has been a big issue for years. Recently, it’s come to a head in part due to a few high-profile incidents, such as the death of a young woman in emergency accommodation. The number of children experiencing homelessness (around 4,000) has also shone a light on the severity of the issue. In this essay, Megan Nolan explores homelessness in Ireland as well as the contempt that society has for those who are unhoused.

Megan Nolan writes a column for the New Statesman. She also writes essays, criticism, and fiction. She’s from Ireland but based in London.

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About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.