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Homelessness Is a Housing and Racism Problem

Bill Pitkin

In discussing why homelessness is more prevalent in some cities, Colburn and Aldern make a helpful distinction between “precipitating events” and “root causes.” Despite public perception that individual vulnerabilities like behavioral and mental health status are major drivers to homelessness, these factors affect a minority of people who are unhoused, and the vast majority of the 40 to 52 million people struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders don’t experience homelessness. These vulnerabilities may increase risk but are not root causes of homelessness, and, of course, substance use and mental health disorders are often consequences of housing instability, developing from the trauma of life on the streets.

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