Homeless youth are 7 times more likely to die from AIDS, and 16 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV.
The homeless, especially homeless youth, are exceptionally vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Homeless people commonly participate in high-risk behaviors, such as injecting drugs and unprotected sex. They are also common victims of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, and survival sex.
An estimated 16,859 to 27,600 runaway and homeless youth in the United States are currently HIV positive.
Homelessness in the United States
Total people experiencing homelessness on a given night in 2011
Total people experiencing homelessness on a given night in 2016
As cuts to housing and social services deepened in the 1980s, the number of homeless people grew in the United States, prompting President Reagan to sign the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This act remains the only piece of federal legislation that apportions funding for the sole purpose of homeless assistance. Despite the housing crisis and recession that began in 2007, America’s homeless population has declined within the last decade, partially due to government programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Bush’s “housing first” program, and the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.
The causes of homelessness are numerous, and often interact with one another. Lack of affordable housing, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage, and discrimination are examples of structural factors that can cause homelessness, and are largely beyond individual control. Individual and relational factors also play a role in causing homelessness, and include traumatic events, personal crises, and mental health and addiction challenges.
Most of the homeless population is made up of single adults, however, the experience of homelessness for this demographic is typically brief and a singular event. Families that experience homelessness are typically headed by a single woman with limited education, and include young children. Homelessness impacts children in various and lasting ways, as children experiencing or who have experienced homelessness are more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems than their housed peers, and are also more likely to have serious physical health problems. In addition, homeless children are more likely to experience greater school mobility, and to perform worse academically.
Homelessness and HIV
Fast Facts on HIV and Homelessness
3-10% of all homeless people are HIV positive, which is 10 times the rate among the general population.
Up to 70% of people in certain communities in the U.S. living with HIV/AIDS report a lifetime experience of homelessness or housing instability.
Almost 550,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States on a single night in January 2016.
Organizations Combating Homelessness
Larkin Street Youth Services Agency Video
Mike had been raped by a family member for years before he went to his parents for help. Unfortunately, they did not believe Mike. He began using drugs and acting out. He then came out to his parents as gay. They were not accepting and ultimately kicked him out. Without anywhere to sleep, Mike spiraled into despair. He would sometimes go home with strangers and have sex in order to have a place to spend the night. Mike qualified for benefits to help get him on his feet, and into supportive housing. Unfortunately, Mike was evicted from his supportive housing unit, and discovered that he was HIV positive.
How to Address the Issue of Homelessness and HIV:
An important step in helping the homeless living with HIV/AIDS would be to make subsidized, affordable housing available to this population. Housing assistance allows low-income people with HIV/AIDS to have better access to health care services, and improves their physical and mental health.
Additionally, preventative steps can be taken to decrease the amount of homeless people who contract HIV, such as educational programs that are provided at shelters, soup kitchens, and other easily accessible locations.
(Stricof, R.., Kennedy, J., Natell, T., Weisfuse, I., and Novick, L. (1991). HIV Seroprevalence in a facility for runaway and homeless adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 81, 50-53.
Rotheram-Borus, Song, Gwadz, Lee, Van Rossem, & Koopman, 2004
All graphics by Jaclyn Saik