Homeless in America

Friday, February 01, 2013
This month is the annual 'point in time' count. Most people have never even heard of it. It is the one day a year, in January, that communities are supposed to take a 'snapshot' look at housing and homelessness in our communities  It is the way the federal agencies distribute housing money.

I was contacted a year ago by someone in another county who asked if I ever encountered homelessness in my community. I told her yes, I have homeless people coming through my programs all the time. Most of mine are kids, thrown out for misbehavior or non-compliance, living at the skate park or couch surfing with friends. She informed me that for the past many years our county had returned a big "0" for homeless people here, so we had no funding sent here.

I was appalled. Housing is the one thing I struggle to help people with the most. If you can qualify for housing assistance through government services here there is a one year wait list. And getting approved is like navigating a mine field. Those with the proper religious affiliations go to the top of the list most of the time.

This year I worked with a very few dedicated people to get an accurate point in time. What I told the state was that I doubted I would find anyone actually living 'on the streets' or 'in their cars'- it's January and below freezing here. And we never 'see' that here in our little town. In the big cities, sure, but not here. What I knew I would find is multiple families living together- couch surfing- living in hotels- 'squatting' in abandoned housing- maybe living in storage units.

I was wrong. Not only did I find all of that- I did find people, families, kids- living in cars, on the street. I found them at the food bank- getting what they could for food. Bundled up in whatever they can find people start lining up a couple hours before our food bank opens- in the cold- waiting to get in. They worry the food will run out. They worry they won't get anything and will go a week without. (Our food bank is only open one day a week). I was astounded at those who came through the door- people I knew- people who I had met in other parts of my life. I saw my 'students', my 'kids', I expected that. And as they patiently let me ask them questions about their housing I was surprised and disturbed to hear how many really have no where to go, and no one who cares.

I posted a thread to an article from "Too Small To Fail" earlier today. It's a wonderful story about a man who is trying to photograph this issue in our country- to give these people 'faces'. I'll be honest- the responses I usually get from people who do not have housing issues is this: 'they are lazy- they like being homeless- they don't want help-they are used to mooching off the system'. People recall their parents, grandparents, relatives who have 'pulled themselves up by their bootstraps' and didn't ask for help. But these people- most of them do not have boots at all, let alone bootstraps.

Here is something else I learned. A surprising number of the homeless in our community are veterans. I shouldn't have been surprised. Veterans are 50% as likely as non-veterans to become homeless, they comprise about 25% of the homeless in our country. 5.5% of those currently homeless served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shame on us.

And yet the same people who are anxious to post photos of veterans coming home, who are railing against the administration for the Ben Ghazi incident, who are the first ones to post a "I support our troops" on their facebook pages...are the same ones who can look the other way when we try to tell them 75,000 veterans are homeless on any given day in America.

The Obama administration would like to eliminate homelessness among veterans by 2015. It's a big goal, and will be difficult to accomplish in this day of flash news and misplaced patriotism. If you want to really support our troops, you should do more than put their photos on facebook. You should be working with their kids and families while they're gone- making sure they have a place to sleep when they come home- and caring that they don't. No one should live in a car. No one should have to live without basic needs. Least of all, our veterans. Shame on us.

No comments :

Post a Comment

We allow anonymous comments as long as they comply with our commenting policies. Any comments not meeting our standards will be deleted by the management.

Share This

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...