I gave a text message donation to help people in Haiti. In fact, most of the people I know gave money. This is great, they need our help.
But, there is another group of people who need our help—and they are, literally, in our own backyards.
They are the “economic homeless”—men, women and children who lost their jobs and then lost their homes. Families who are now living in tent cities or villages made out of tool sheds. They have no bathrooms, no running water, and no electricity. They have no security, and no safety. They have no heat.
A natural disaster never fails to gain our sympathy. We know that there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it. That no one asked to be in an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. But, when something happens that carries the taint of man, we say they should have known better. We turn our backs and silently say thanks that it was them and not us.
But, this could have been anyone in the middle or working class. This is not homelessness caused by mental illness or drug addiction. We weren’t saving, we felt too secure in our way of life. Any one of us could have trusted the wrong “expert” and gotten the wrong advice. We could have taken the wrong mortgage. We have no financial education in our schools, are we really at fault for trusting people whose job it was to help us buy a house or get a loan?
I would bet that everyone in this country has, at one time or another, spent money that they shouldn’t have or bought something he or she really didn’t need. All of us make mistakes. Do we deserve to lose our homes?
Should we be comparing them to stray animals, like the Lt. Governor of South Carolina?
Don’t they deserve our compassion? And this is not to say that all homeless people don’t deserve our help, because they do. A nation that experienced such prosperity as we have should never have had a homeless problem in the first place.
Parts of America are beginning to look like a third world country. There are tent cities popping up all across the nation, from Florida to California. Cities are putting up tool sheds in parking lots for people to live in; in effect, they are simply storing people away.
There are hundreds of thousands of them. And, countless more right behind them, the families who are living in pay-by-the-week motels, whole families crammed into one motel room. These people are one paycheck away from landing in the street.
These are people with college degrees and/or work experience. These are people who worked hard to support themselves and their families but who now can’t find work.
There is a rising gap between income and housing costs for low-income individuals. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has put together a map to demonstrate that in many states a full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford the fair market rent.
In their “Out of Reach 2009” U.S. overview they found that: “The estimated mean (average) renter wage in the U.S. is estimated to be $14.69 in 2009. A renter household needs one full-time job paying $17.84 per hour in order for a two-bedroom rental unit at the Fair Market Rent to be affordable. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 in 2009.”
It should be no surprise that there are people who have jobs and who still are homeless.
According to a January 2009 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “1.5 million additional Americans could become homeless over the next two years.” This is over and beyond those that would normally become homeless. Many communities have already seen significant increases in their local homeless population.
Other ways a recession hurts:
• Family members who might have been able to help might have seen their own earnings cut or may already be helping the maximum number of people
• Charities have a harder time securing donations
• State and local governments see declining tax revenues and may cut relief programs
Homelessness & Education
Many of the economic homeless are homeless with children. They may not all be living in tents, some are living in crowded group homes, sleeping on floors or moving from shelter to shelter.
A recent article in the NY Daily News says, “At 19 of the 20 schools that the Education Department announced last month it plans to shut down, the number of homeless kids jumped by more than 100%.”
In some NY public schools, one in every five kids is homeless. There are now a few nationwide schools just for homeless children. Mustard Seed is one such school in Sacramento, CA. The Mustard Seed website says, “Many school age children do not attend school because of their homelessness; some lack immunizations, birth certificates, or other documents, some are in transit, and almost all lack a support system. In spite of their situations these children are eager to learn and to be accepted.”
The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t have the final 2008-2009 national numbers for homeless children. However from the 2006-2007 school to the 2007-2008 school year there was a 17 percent increase of homeless children enrolled in public school.
According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, “According to the most recent federal data, in the 2007-2008 school year, 794,617 homeless children and youth were enrolled in public schools… it is an underestimate, because not all school districts reported data to the U.S. Department of Education, and because the data collected represents only those children identified and enrolled in school. Finally, the number does not include all preschool-age children, or any infants and toddlers.”
A national survey compiled by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, found that the recession has had “a significant impact on homelessness… one in five responding school districts reported having more homeless children in the Fall of 2008 than over the course of the entire 2007-2008 school year. In light of final reports from individual states and school districts that have reported 2008-2009 numbers, and the tremendous increases documented in the Fall of 2008, we estimate that more than one million homeless children pre-K through grade 12 were enrolled in public schools last year.”
How can you help?
There are many organizations that help the homeless.
• The National Coalition of Homeless
• National Alliance to End Homelessness
You can donate money, food, clothing, personal items, bicycles and time to local homeless organizations.
Unfortunately, like anything else there are people who will say they are collecting donations to help the homeless but are actually doing very little. This whole site has great first person information on the problems homeless people face when trying to find a job and why they sometimes don’t ask their families for help.
If you need help you can call 211 (visit 211.org for more information) for information and referrals for help with food, housing, health care, and more. Or, call 211 to find places in your area that need donations.
The National Coalition of Homeless offers a whole page on ways that you can help.
Almost everyone has seen the Sally Struthers commercials asking you to sponsor a family in an impoverished nation. There are sites that enable you to sponsor a family in America:
Text messaging donating is genius: it’s easy, we can give a little bit and do it quickly. Americans are a giving people; we have donated millions to help the people in Haiti. If we could all easily text $5 or $10 to help people in this country, I think that many of us would answer the call. Why aren’t there charities and organizations asking us for our text message donations? As the recession continues there will be more homeless, we can’t afford to wait any longer. And it’s not just the economic homeless who need our help. We shouldn’t let anyone get left behind.