Homelessness places people at greater risk of victimization, poor health, loneliness and depression, which can lead to chemical dependency, delinquency and many other problems. Two weeks ago, the Colorado State Patrol began evicting nearly 200 residents from the homeless encampments surrounding the Colorado Capitol. Enforcement of municipal ordinances, such as the prohibition of camping, curfews in parks and obstructions of public walkways, is legal. However, the increase in “tough love” and the “quality of life” of police in cities in the United States undermine the sleep patterns, physical safety and mental health of the homeless, according to a recent study by the University of Colorado in Denver.
The study, conducted in collaboration with the advocacy organization Denver Homeless Out Loud, was published in May in the Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness. In surveys of 484 homeless people in Denver, researchers found that the police had asked 74% to “move on”. Forty-four percent had been fined or arrested after contact with the police for a violation of the “quality of life”. These “move on” orders lead people to seek out more hidden and isolated urban places to sleep: nearly a quarter searched for hidden river or stream beds, while another quarter chose to stay on the move all night.
Without the well-lit areas of public parks or the safety and resources of a group, reasons why homeless people stay together, people who moved to avoid contact with the police were more than twice as likely to be physically assaulted and 39% more likely to receive burglaries than homeless people who didn't move. When police imposed bans on camping or sheltering, researchers discovered a 45% increase in the risk of climate-related health problems, such as frostbite, heat stroke and dehydration. Seventy percent say the police wake them up frequently and 52% constantly worry about police contact while they sleep. People who are frequently awakened by the police sleep an average of two hours straight and sleep less than four hours a night.
The situation will only worsen. Nearly 420,000 Coloradans are at risk of eviction in the coming months, and the biggest increases will begin in August, according to the Bell Policy Center and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. In fact, with the lifting of the moratorium on evictions and the reduction of unemployment benefits, nearly 20 percent of the 110 million tenants across the country are homeless. In particular, the homeless youth population is especially vulnerable to mental illness.
Recent statistics from Verywell Mind show that 60 percent of the approximately 42 million young people have reported mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are among some of the traumatic forms in which homelessness occurs. In addition, a Boston Medical Center study on the effects of housing instability revealed that falling behind in paying rent and having a homeless child further increased the likelihood of mental health problems. Maternal depressive symptoms were common in these families, along with cases of food and energy insecurity.
The lack of access to mental health resources, such as medicines and counseling, further exacerbates these problems. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough rest, and recovering from injuries and illnesses is nearly impossible on the streets and in shelters. Now that you have an idea about the causes and effects of homelessness, let's talk about what you can do to end it.