The increasing numbers of children living in poverty and the corresponding rise in the number of homeless families with children in our country is one of the dirty secrets left undiscussed in this ugly election season.
Homeless in Utah:
The lingering recession has taken a toll on Utah’s youngest residents, leading to a 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released Wednesday.
That’s pretty dramatic. The number of school aged homeless children has nearly doubled in 2 years. It’s not a campaign issue. No one is talking about it. There’s more outrage being expressed about Juan Williams getting fired by NPR.
The number of homeless students in Nebraska public schools increased 26 percent in the past school year as the limping economy forced more parents into shelters or other temporary living arrangements.
Schools reported 2,210 homeless students last school year, or 458 more than the year before, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
The Omaha Public Schools reported 661 homeless students last year, an increase of more than 20 percent.
School District 51 identified 500 homeless children last year, and already 275 students have been identified the first quarter — “substantially higher than it’s ever been at this time of year,” said prevention services coordinator Cathy Haller.
“We estimate (based on national statistics) at any given time there’s another 20 percent (100 kids) not enrolled who should be,” Haller said.
Worst of all is this report on homeless children from the group First Focus (PDF):
Analysis of recently released federal data shows that the number of homeless children and youth identified in public schools has increased for the second year in a row, and by 41% over the past two school years.
You’d think this would make headlines.
You’d be wrong.
Seven states saw a decrease in the number of homeless school-aged children. The remaining 43 states saw increases. In some cases the increases were huge. Iowa saw a 136 % increase.
Finally, there’s this PBS story about homeless children. It will make you weep.
It’s shameful that this isn’t even a topic in our upcoming elections. It’s shameful that we aren’t ashamed.
Tags: children, homelessness, poverty
The Las Vegas Sun newspaper has done something most other papers don’t bother with. They haven’t just paid lip service to homelessness. They actually keep on printing stories about homeless people. In July, I wrote a blog post called “More Stories of the New Homeless” One of the stories I linked to in that post was from the Las Vegas Sun.
At the end of August, the paper printed an essay by a homeless man, Rodger Jacobs, who is a freelance writer:
I am a 51-year-old professional writer; throughout my 20-year career I have been an award-winning feature documentary producer (“Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes” and multiple educational documentaries), a trade and arts magazine journalist, a successful playwright (“Go Irish: The Purgatory Diaries of Jason Miller”), a true crime author and a literary event producer. For the past two years, I have enjoyed my role as a book and literature columnist for Pop Matters, a popular online journal of cultural criticism.
But in the larger scheme of things, my credentials are utterly meaningless. In less than two weeks, my girlfriend and I will be without a home in a town where we have no friends, no family, and apparently no safety net to catch us when we fall.
I have been medically disabled for the past eight years; my primary source of income is my monthly Social Security disability payment of $926 and whatever supplemental income I can earn within the $1,000 monthly limit, but with jobs in the freelance market few and far between in the new economy, several months often pass without additional income.
It’s the story of a writer and his partner who were living close to the financial edge, and were pushed over by the ruined economy. They’ve faced one problem after another – and when you have no financial resources, the smallest problems can be insurmountable. Things like trying to get a picture ID, in order to get assistance from social service agencies:
A friend has offered to pay the cost of obtaining my birth certificate from California so I can get a Nevada ID card, but then there’s the cost of getting the affidavit notarized and, further, how can I obtain an ID without an address for DMV to send the card to?
Rodger’s second essay was published last weekend. It focuses on the kinds of responses he got from the first essay:
The day the Sun published my essay — which was intended to illustrate how close many of us are to being homeless in the Great Recession — I had planned to spend packing. Instead, I spent many of my waking hours defending myself against allegations of sloth (“30 years of not having a real job”), hypochondria, arrogance (“Your arrogance got you where you are and will keep you where you are”), weak moral and ethical judgment, prevarication (“Writers are liars and opportunists”), alcoholism, drug abuse, liberalism, solipsism, atheism (“Christ was homeless … read the Bible … take up your cross and follow the Lord”), ripping off “the system,” a defeatist attitude, poor money management, a grifter looking for a handout, and, oh yes, I need to stop smoking, get a haircut, and “renounce (my) citizenship, become a Mexican citizen and then come back as an illegal and qualify for free housing, food stamps, and medical coverage and live off the fat of the land.” (How chilling that the last comment unintentionally invokes John Steinbeck in “Of Mice and Men,” perhaps the greatest literary defender of America’s downtrodden.)
Rodger Jacobs is disabled. He has psoriatic arthritis. Many of the angry people who responded to his essay told him to go get a job at McDonalds:
I walk with a cane, sometimes I have to use an electric wheelchair that Medicare provided last year when I was under home health care by a nurse service, and my toenails and fingernails have been eaten away by the ravages of psoriatic arthritis, leaving exposed flesh with sensitive nerve endings. I cannot help Lela pack, let alone avail myself of “menial labor” jobs that so many respondents in this paper excoriated me for refusing to do should such offers come my way.
Imagine life without fingernails and toenails and then ask again why I’m not working at McDonald’s.
The lack of compassion is troubling – but the level of anger is even more disconcerting. I suspect that the anger some people have for the homeless is fueled by their own fears that they are only a paycheck or two away from being homeless themselves.
David DeGraw, writing for AlterNet, did an analysis of the official poverty rate, as was recently reported by the Census. His methodology shows that the numbers are even worse than the official numbers. One of the most chilling aspects of the story was how many of us really are a paycheck or two away from homelessness:
In my analysis, a key metric to judge the overall economic security and hardship level of a country is the percentage of the population living paycheck to paycheck. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you about the stress and psychological impact it has on you when you know your family is one sickness, injury or downsizing away from economic ruin. The employment company CareerBuilder, in partnership with Harris Interactive, conducts an annual survey to determine the percentage of Americans currently living paycheck to paycheck. In 2007, 43 percent fell into this category. In 2008, the number increased to 49 percent. In 2009, the number skyrocketed up to 61 percent.
In their most recent survey, this number exploded to a mind-shattering 77 percent. Yes, 77 percent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. This means in our nation of 310 million citizens, 239 million Americans are one setback away from economic ruin.
I flunked remedial math in high school (true story) – but as numerically challenged as I am, I know that’s 3/4 of the population. Those of us who aren’t in the top 2% are in a very precarious position. Some of us have already skated off the ice. I hope Rodger and Lena find both help and kindness.
Definitions of what exactly homeless consists of vary from state to state. HUD defines homeless as:
an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is –
a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
From the Affordable Housing Coalition in Tacoma, Washington:
A person who lacks a fixed and regular nighttime residence. The general public tends to think of “homeless” as persons living on the streets, whereas it can include persons living involuntarily with a friend or family member, living in a car, etc.—anyone without a fixed address.
The bad economy has been causing an increase in homelessness for a couple of years now, but we don’t hear much about it any more. In Oregon:
Oregon Housing and Community Services reported once again Wednesday that Oregon homelessness is on the rise. Unemployment tops the list of reasons for the increase.
And, in 2010, children now comprise 31 percent of the state’s homeless population. The number of homeless families with children increased 33 percent from the previous year.
Multnomah County conducts its street count in odd-numbered years; therefore, it is safe to assume the 2010 count understates the extent of homelessness in Oregon. Despite this, the number of people identified as homeless increased 12 percent over 2009.
In New York City:
There is no denying homelessness in New York City is on the rise. Not only is the number of homeless living in city shelters at an all-time high of about 39,000, but a new estimate released Friday shows the number of homeless on the street is up 34 percent over last year.
“The number of people experiencing homelessness in our city — families with children, single adults in shelter — now on our streets have all increased as a result of the very difficult economic times,” said Robert Hess of the Department of Homeless Services.
Wilder Research reported last March a startling 22 percent increase in the number of homeless persons in Minnesota. Turns out that figure was low.
The numbers of those counted as living in shelters, transitional housing and in the woods or on the streets one night last October has actually increased 25 percent compared to three years ago.
These are the people who can be counted. There is no way to count the people who are staying with family or friends.
In 2009, there were all kinds of news stories about tent cities springing up across the country. Apparently the media lost interest in that story. Some cities have eliminated the tent cities. In Colorado Springs:
A no-camping ordinance that took effect in March has helped the HOT cops clear out the tent cities. The ordinance gave them the authority to issue citations for camping on public land, but Iverson said that so far, they’ve only had to issue written warnings.
The big tent city in Sacramento generated huge media coverage. Not so much in 2010.
A year after Sacramento’s “tent city” gained global attention and a firestorm of media coverage, the city’s homeless problem is still crippling for those down on their luck.
Mayor Kevin Johnson promised to tackle the issue and challenged the media who swarmed to Sacramento: “Come back six months from now, do a follow up story.”
The land that was once home to the tent city is now empty and fenced off, but the homeless say the problem has only grown.
Ah, but now the problem is out of sight, and therefore out of mind – and out of media scrutiny.
On a forum for homeless people, I found this discouraging discussion taking place, on how to get into a tent city. You see, they’re still out there. We just aren’t hearing about them.
Some help available for those on the edge of eviction. From the NY Times:
He could no longer pay even the rent on his cramped studio apartment — not on his $10-an-hour part-time job as a fry cook at a fast food restaurant.
Faced with eviction, he was staring last month at the imminent prospect of joining the teeming ranks of the homeless. His last hope was a new $1.5 billion federal program aimed at preventing that fate.
Much like the Great Depression, when millions of previously working people came to rely on a new social safety net for their sustenance, a swelling group of formerly middle-class Americans like Mr. Moore, 30, is seeking government aid for the first time. Without help, say economists, many are at risk of slipping permanently into poverty, even as economic conditions improve.
The question is whether the modern-day safety net has enough money and the right initiatives to aid those who need it most. The answer could shape whether a considerable slice of the American population will recover from the trauma of recent years, and how long that will take.
“Nationally, homelessness has now reached crisis proportions not seen since the Great Depression,” says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
The severity of the situation prompted the Obama administration to create the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program within the $787 billion economic stimulus package. The program rests on the assumption that intervention is the best course because once people become homeless, the odds and costs of regaining their lives escalate sharply.
One of the goals of this program is to help prevent even more people from losing their housing. The US has a higher level of homelessness right now than we had during the Great Depression. The funds are administered federally through the HUD program, but each state seems to have a different system for distributing funds. Every state has a housing authority, and their websites are the best way to find out how the program works in your state.
Tags: homelessness, stimulus
Over 150,000 are in danger of losing their heat in Detroit.
State and local agencies estimate an unprecedented 150,000 metro Detroiters are at risk of having their heat shut off if they don’t receive help paying their bills. The number of people seeking state assistance so far this winter jumped 30% over last year at this time, according to the state Department of Human Services.
Officials blame the rise on metro Detroit’s miserable economy that continues to cost people their jobs. Since last winter, unemployment rose 33% — to 288,000 people — for the tri-county area, according to state employment data.
Detroit has the highest unemployment rate of any metro area in the nation. This winter, people who have never asked for help before find themselves asking, which means that there’s more need than there is funding.
The state’s largest nonprofit for energy assistance, The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), is experiencing the highest demand for help since it was established 25 years ago. Volunteers are scurrying to raise more money.
The Huffington Post is doing a series they call “Bearing Witness,” stories of middle class families who are barely getting by. If you have a story to tell, email Laura Bassett (LBassett@huffingtonpost.com). They recently profiled the story of the Renault family, published by Voice of America.
The Renaults are one of more than 20 homeless families currently living in Lebanon’s Timberline Campground. Timberline’s the kind of place someone with a tent or camper might spend a night; a day or two at most. The Renaults have been here since last August.
It’s a giant step down from the three-bedroom home they lost. Renault says her family’s slide into homelessness started nearly two years ago when her husband Troy lost his construction job. “[For] a little under a year,” she recalls, “we just kind of maintained living expense. But then it just got to a point where, with the economy shifting, it caused people to no longer really utilize his services.”
These are the kinds of stories we aren’t seeing told on the nightly news – or in most of the mainstream media. Many people aren’t aware of just how dire the situation is for so many working families like the Renaults, which is why it is important that they be told. There is a stereotype of what a homeless person is, a stereotype that does not apply any longer.
But beyond the physical hardships, Tammy Renault says her family is getting a crash course in what it means, socially, to be labeled homeless. “It’s being called names. It’s being ridiculed. It’s running into people that have seen you in your highest and are not even speaking to you anymore because they’re too afraid for where you are and don’t know what to say.”
Meanwhile, Colorado is facing decisions on what to do about tent cities that are springing up around the state.
The colorful tents and their colorful residents, both very visible amid the barren winter landscape, have been the focus of months of lively debate, public forums and study by lawyers. But Colorado Springs is just one of dozens of cities struggling to find a solution to unsightly and unsanitary tent cities that house thousands of homeless across the country.
In Colorado Springs, the issue emerged when the homeless complained that police and a city contractor were making sweeps through the camps and scooping up their few personal belongings. An investigation reported that one homeless man, a veteran, lost his driver’s license, Social Security card, clothing and sleeping bag in one “clean up.”
Now Boulder is contending with homeless outrage as well. Several homeless people, fed up with being dealt fat fines they can’t pay for sleeping outside, took their complaints to the City Council, urging a moratorium on ticketing the homeless for sleeping outside.
Fining people for being homeless is not any kind of a solution. That the United States has a huge and growing homeless population should be a source of profound national shame. Our leaders should be focusing on ending homelessness, and preventing more of our fragile middle class from entering the downward spiral.
Tags: homelessness, Housing, unemployment
The US Conference of Mayors has released their 2009 survey on Hunger and Homelessness. The report is based on a survey of 27 mayors from around the country who are members of the Conference of Mayors task force on Homelessness and Hunger.
The study shows about a 26% increase in requests for emergency food assistance. The numbers of homeless families have also risen sharply:
76 % of the cities reported an increase in family homelessness, while homelessness among individuals decreased or stayed the same for 16 of the 23 cities. The report notes that most of the cities that experienced drops in individual homelessness attributed the decline to a policy strategy by federal, state and local governments of adopting 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness among single adults. The recession and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the top causes of family homelessness in the surveyed cities.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan,
who chairs the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said that one of the most tragic consequences of our housing and economic crisis are those who fall into homelessness as a result – whether through foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, or other financial problems. The Secretary noted that with increases in rural and suburban family homelessness, the issue is not an urban problem, but one every community struggles with. He said, “As diverse as our homeless population is, there is one thing that everyone who is homeless shares: a lack of housing they can afford. And as this study finds, high housing costs often lead families to cut back on necessities like food.”
Homeless shelters all over the country are full, and in some cases, turning people away. The Denver Post ran a story earlier in the week that showed an absence of beds for homeless women in Denver:
On Monday night, when the temperature dropped to 5 degrees in metro Denver, as many as 35 solo homeless women were turned away from city shelters.
Although the number of unaccompanied homeless women in the metro area has tripled since 2007 — to 1,606 from 552, according to the 2009 Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s point-in-time survey — there are only 241 shelter beds for solo women available in Denver.
Emergency-shelter beds “are extremely limited for women,” said Geoff Bennett, director of the Samaritan House. “There are many more men’s beds than there are beds for women.”
When the beds fill up, some of the women may receive motel vouchers, but they must meet certain criteria. And if they don’t, they must fend for themselves.