and the mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic

An increasingly large number of people are experiencing homelessness for the first time since the Pandemic. 

Cities which hadn't previously dealt with widespread homelessness, like Denver and Boston, are experiencing renewed, massive waves of unemployment and subsequent homelessness.

Others, like New York or Los Angeles, have already witnessed their numbers skyrocketing prior to the pandemic, and are now overwhelmed by this constant yet controversial problem. 

According to the United Nations, an estimated 2% of the planet’s population is currently homeless. This accounts for over 150 million people, yet not the 1.6 billion who reside in inadequate or inhumane housing. 

In the United States alone, this number is estimated to be around 500,000 people.

Outside the cities, a surge in rural poverty and homelessness has also seen a vast increase in the past few years.

Massive layoffs that began with the Pandemic’s initial corporate shockwave are reaching into counties and municipalities expanding from the major metropolitan centers in the US. 

In the “BosWash Megalopolis,” we see the pandemic’s lingering effects the clearest. This megalopolis is a mega-city and industrial region spanning from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC.

It’s here that over 55 million Americans reside, and where the largest industrial layoffs and mental health crisis have arisen. 

Rural and suburban homelessness is considered a more pressing issue compared to their urban counterpart, as there are less resources for poor and homeless individuals in areas of less economic development and prosperity. 

This means less homeless shelters, less food banks, and less state, local, and federal stimulus to actively combat poverty.

In many rural and suburban populations, many people feel like the country, state, or local municipality has abandoned them. According to the American Psychological Association, these thoughts often lead to symptoms of depression, a disorder that over 47% of the urban and suburban homeless meet the criteria for. 

Barely any metrics have been collected on the new rural homeless phenomena, however, it is estimated that similar rates of depression are expected. 

Various initiatives have been created that aim to confront this growing problem since the pandemic, nonetheless.

In terms of innovation and likeability among public officials, the most prevalent solution by far is “modular homes.” They are also the current most-favorable option among scholars and social workers that have studied this issue intensively. 

The reasoning is that modular homes cost on average about as much per-person as the government already spends on social services for the homeless population in urban areas.

Rather than starting new social programs that often are not as effective as initially proposed, modular homes address the physical issue of homelessness by moving people off the streets and into safe, permanent dwellings. The mental health crisis is addressed as well when people feel generally safer and more provided for.

This shift of funds would take homeless people off the street and place them in safe, secure, and equitable accommodations that the state could provide free of charge. Over time, the financial burden on states and municipalities would decrease as their initial investment takes effect.

Solving the homelessness crisis in our cities and towns across America is not an easy task. One thing's for certain, though. Human ingenuity and our innovative spirits have the necessary willpower and skill to create solutions for this problem.

It is now up to us to hold our current leadership accountable to implement some of these solutions sooner rather than later.

December 7, 2022

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