According to the World Health Organization, almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life. Temporary disabilities like bone breaks limiting mobility or even impairments following medical treatments can affect any one of us at any time. In the United States, approximately 1 in 4 adults have some type of permanent disability.
Often when we ask what causes homelessness, one of the top responses is disabilities and mental health issues. This is only partially correct in that the individual vulnerabilities inherent with permanent disabilities can cause homelessness and experiencing homelessness can cause disability. People with disabilities are more likely to experience housing, health care, employment and wage discrimination, which will make it difficult to sustain housing and income to meet their basic needs. Disabled adults experience poverty at more than twice the rate of nondisabled adults and nearly 25% of those experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S. have a disability.
You may be wondering how individuals with disabilities experience these inequities more than nondisabled persons when there are legal protections such as the fair housing act and protections against employment discrimination. When an individuals disability prevents them from working, they largely rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and lower wage flexible work places. These lower incomes simply do not match the cost of housing anywhere across the United States creating severely cost-burdened rental households. These households are spending more than 30% of their income a month on housing costs.
Once an individual is unable to sustain housing and gets evicted, the next step is typically homelessness. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) asserts many community shelters are inaccessible to people with disabilities and when denied access to shelter nearly seven in ten persons will then live in places not meant for human habitation further exacerbating their disabilities and other health outcomes.
Once individuals with disabilities live unsheltered, and do so for at least a year, they are considered to be Chronically Homeless. In the 2023 point-in-time count for our tri-county Continuum of Care (Orange, Osceola, and Seminole Counties) 20% of individuals counted on one night in January are considered to be chronically homeless. This is up 13% from the 2022 point-in-time count.
Hope Cares, a program entity of Hope Partnership, specializes in serving our neighbors experiencing chronic homelessness. Our outreach team will make initial contact and work on forming a relationship with our neighbors to eventually connect them to supportive services and permanent housing solutions they qualify for. The process is not linear, and usually requires many interventions including disability verification and documentation, obtaining identification documents from IDignity Osceola, and then awaiting an opening in a permanent supportive housing program (PSH). PSH programs are specifically designed for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and provide subsidized housing as well as long-term support through case management.
While it’s critical to have and support programs to end homelessness for our neighbors with disabilities, policy and systems change is necessary to prevent our neighbors from entering homelessness to begin with. Providing additional income supports, housing vouchers/assistance, and lowering barriers to social programs are some of the ways to ensure individuals with disabilities are not falling into poverty due to their disability.