Almost homeless in America

Monday, February 04, 2013
When I wrote about my recent exposure to the housing issue in our county I spent most of that blog talking about veterans. There was another population whose housing condition both surprised and distressed me, those living in sub-standard housing.

Statistics say that 5.7 million Americans live in sub-standard housing, housing that is deemed unsafe because it has sub-standard water, electricity or heat or because other conditions make it unsafe/unsanitary.

I should clarify, for those who do not know my little town, that we are fairly idyllic. We have a small rural population and you never see people who 'look' homeless walking around. We also spend a lot of our year in colder temperatures which does not lend itself to homelessness   Most people in my town would tell you we do not have a homeless or housing problem here.

Several years ago I had a student come through one of my programs. He told us about living in a house with no utilities- water run from a hose- heat source being a single garbage can they lit fires in. A family with several children were living like this before they were able to move into government housing, for which there is a wait list.

As I took the pulse of housing in our community I was exposed to this on a grander scale. Many families were paying 'rent' of some kind to live in trailer homes that should be condemned. Many of these are without heat- proper roofing- flooring- windows. People are living in these homes without electricity- without heat- without proper water. Why don't they move if they pay rent? They have rights! We should protest!

But they can't. They can't raise a problem with their landlords because they have no place else to go. To say anything- to cause any problem at all- means being thrown out onto the streets, and they feel safe in these homes. I met two separate families living this way with family members living there who were dying of cancer. Untreated, improperly cared for- they just wait for them to die. It is a travesty that we choose not to see this. It is a travesty that these slum lords, many of whom probably sit well dressed in our community churches and businesses during the week- are never confronted with their shame.

The only way to really resolve this is to have adequate housing available for all of us- for people to not have to wait years to get into a low income house, for people to be able to do so quicker when there is a great medical need or small children. We need to build adequate housing in our communities, and put people into programs to help empower them. We need to sustain them in housing while they get on their feet. To do any less is to acquiesce to a system of institutionalized poverty that we should never permit in our country.

We do have the industrial world's highest standard of living here, with 85% of us living in good conditions. But the 15% who are not, they are still Americans. They still deserve adequate housing. I'm fine with offering a hand up instead of a hand out. Sadly, for many of us, we don't even see their hands.

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