Social Security is not available to most people who are not disabled and of working age. You can’t just say, “Think I’ll stop working and start pulling Social Security!” You must be a certain age to draw SS, or you must be disabled (SSDI) or you must have other circumstances such that entitle you to SS (like you are a minor whose parent has died).
The government will support people who do not have enough money through programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) and subsidized housing programs (HUD), but you must demonstrate need and there is still an expectation that you will be working or showing why you can’t. Other social services, such as shelters and food kitchens, are aimed more specifically towards the truly homeless, but most of them are run by private agencies, often religious (like the Salvation Army or the local Gospel Mission).
As others have said, many homeless Americans have substance abuse or mental health problems or both. They do not do well in filling out forms and taking direction. They often cannot hold down employment (and often do not want to), and will find themselves disqualified for government social services due to an inability or failure to comply with the necessary regulations.
No. Social Security is a safety net for persons unable to work to support themselves due to age – too old or too young – or disability.
Lots of reasons: Because they are mentally ill or addicted, and they cannot or will not comply with the rules of the shelters. (No disruptive behavior; no drugs.) Because they shelters are full. Because the shelters are stigmatizing. Because the shelters are gender-segregated, so you can’t stay with your SO or all your kids. Because sometimes the shelters are dangerous and often other people steal your stuff. The government by and large does not provide free meals. Missions and charities sometimes do, but they have their own rules, their own stigmas, and often have limited hours of service.
It’s not universally applicable. The generalization of the “voluntarily homeless” disregards the fact that sometimes people are not just unwilling, but unable, to meet even basic requirements for services due to mental illness or serious addiction. If you know that if you go the shelter you’ll be locked in for the night, and you’re worried that your high will wear off about 4 a.m., leaving you sick and out of your mind with the need for drugs, so you decide not to go – was that a “voluntary” decision or not? If they kick you out of the shelter because you shout and scare other residents due to a mental illness – was the action that got you ejected “voluntary” or not?
The deal is that the U.S. actually does very well, compared to much of the world, in providing through public and private means necessary social services for those who have the minimum skills to take advantage of them. Those who can’t conform their behavior to even that minimum extent may well be persistently homeless.
The best partial solution is better community-based substance abuse and mental health services at no or low cost. But historically there is relatively little support for such widespread services, and they are even more difficult to advocate for in this economy.