What are the root causes of homelessness?

Homelessness is often the result of someone experiencing a combination of complex issues and difficult situations. Housing availability and affordability barriers, traumatic personal events, substance abuse and behavioral health issues are some of the primary root causes of homelessness.

Affordability and Accessibility

Affordability and accessibility are currently the most pressing and prevalent barriers to ending homelessness. According to the American Community Survey via the Kanas Housing Resource Corporation’s 2021 Statewide Housing Needs Assessment, 42.8% of renters and 20.1% of homeowners are “cost-burdened,” meaning that they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. 30% of income is often considered the “sweet spot” for housing costs, allowing households to cover other daily living expenses like food, transportation, emergency savings, childcare, phone, internet and retirement. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), considers the fair-market rent (FMR) in Wichita for a studio apartment in 2023 to be $615; ten years ago, it was $428. That’s an increase of 43.69%. Looking further back to 2003, the same studio apartment was only $370, a 20-year increase of 66.22%.

Housing availability has also become scarcer as the housing stock ages (average age of multifamily units in Sedgwick County is 1955), the population of Sedgwick County grows, and new housing isn’t being constructed quickly enough to meet demand. Other more personal factors, such as eviction history and criminal records also present housing and rental barriers.

While Wichita remains relatively affordable compared to the other top cities in the U.S., low-income people are becoming more cost burdened. As they stop putting money into savings to cover increased housing and living costs, they edge ever closer to one crisis putting them on the streets. According to the “Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2023, only 9% of all U.S. counties can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a one-bedroom. Sedgwick County is not one of those counties.

To afford the FMR of a studio apartment in Wichita and not be cost-burdened, a household would need to make an hourly wage of $11.80. If a household has children and needs a two-bedroom apartment, they would need an average wage of $15.83. In order to afford the same apartment on minimum wage ($7.25 per hour in Kansas since 2010), the household would need to work 2.2 full-time jobs. Households that are on fixed incomes and cannot work because of disabilities, such as those that receive Supplemental Security Income, struggle to afford housing and cover the cost of their other basic needs.

Domestic Violence and Disabling Conditions

Income and housing affordability aren’t the only reasons people become homeless. In 2021 alone, across the state of Kansas, 3,577 people had to flee their homes because of domestic violence according to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Others may not be able to maintain their housing because of disabling conditions, such as serious mental illness, chronic substance use, and HIV/AIDS. During Wichita’s 2023 Point in Time Count, 30% of unhoused adults reported having a serious mental illness, 17% reported having a substance use disorder, and less than one percent reported having HIV or AIDS. Without stable housing as a platform, people with these conditions do not have the opportunity to fully engage in treatment because their main concern is survival. Other medical conditions or physical disabilities and lack of access to affordable healthcare can also impact a household’s ability to afford or even maintain housing.

Safe, Affordable and Available Housing

Housing people is much more complicated than just matching people with a house. Housing must be safe, affordable and available. The household must have the knowledge and a steady income to maintain their housing. There may be deeper issues that can only be resolved post-housing, like trauma from domestic violence. These are issues that require the full community to address, from local government to non-profits and businesses.

The Coalition to End Homelessness in Wichita/Sedgwick County (formerly known as Impact ICT Continuum of Care), backed by United Way of the Plains, is working collaboratively to house our neighbors. Partner agencies are:

  • Preventing homelessness from occurring by paying for emergency rental and utility assistance.
  • Meeting the immediate needs of our unhoused neighbors through emergency shelters, day programs, and outreach programs.
  • Providing hope and directly ending homelessness each week through case conferencing and matching people to housing programs.
  • Housing people directly from the streets and emergency shelters and supporting them with client-directed services to keep them in housing

Over 35 agencies, representing nonprofits, faith communities, local government and businesses are working together to end homelessness in our area through their participation in the Coalition to End Homelessness. You can learn more about this year-round work to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring for all of our neighbors by visiting the coalition webpage for more information.

If you are homeless, or facing the possibility of homelessness, dial 2-1-1 for help. Our caring team of call specialists can connect you to community resources to meet your needs.


Published On: June 13, 2023Tags: , , ,


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