A stubborn embarrassment about American society is extensive homelessness. Every time I hear President Obama talk about our wealthy nation I cringe. In this current terrible economic meltdown, with still rising levels of unemployment, homelessness has become horrific as millions lose their homes due to foreclosure or because they no longer can afford their rental units.
Traditional ways for dealing with the homeless by government and private entities have themselves become hamstrung by lower financial capabilities as local demand skyrockets. A Google news search for homelessness confirmed that in virtually every part of the country homelessness is making headlines.
Good data on homeless are lacking. Current national homeless figures were not yet available, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2007, there were 671,888 homeless people. Considering recent events it is very likely that there many more homeless now. Also, that figure apparently excludes about 30 percent of homeless families housed in private, faith-based or domestic violence-related shelters Indeed, the Urban Institute says about 3.5 million US residents (about 1 percent of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time.
A new report has brought attention to the fact that one in 50 US kids is homeless and will probably get worse. "Without a voice, more than 1.5 million of our nation's children go to sleep without a home each year," said the "
Here are some other findings about homeless children under the age of 18, not including runaways. They are twice as likely to go hungry, more than twice as likely as middle class children to have health problems, and run twice the risk of other children of repeating a grade at school, being expelled or suspended, or not finishing high school. "At least 25 percent have witnessed violence, and 22 percent have been separated from their families. About half of all school-age children experiencing homelessness have problems with anxiety and depression, and 20 percent of homeless preschoolers have emotional problems that require professional care," the report said.
The report asked a question that each of us should also be asking: "What does it say about our country that we are willing to bail out banks but not our smallest most vulnerable citizens?" Think about this, and try to recall whether you have heard any of the nation's leaders recently talk about homelessness in general or homeless children in particular. When I found myself digging into this subject I kept thinking about the billions and billions of dollars just included for pork earmark projects from members of Congress in the new spending bill just signed by President Obama. It was so easy for member of Congress to dismiss this outrageous spending as a very small percent of the total spending. But we continue to spend billions on all kinds of things while paying too little attention to a number of human calamities, particularly the plight of homeless children.
Here is what has been reported in
For those of us still comfortable in our homes it is very difficult to imagine the pain and suffering of going homeless. Losing much of our net worth is one thing cutting back on spending can be painful, but losing our home is quite another.
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Harbor Light usually houses between 425 and 450 people a night, but in the past few weeks, those numbers have risen to more than 500. Homeless people have been allowed to sleep in the chapel inside Harbor Light. But in the past few weeks, even the chapel has filled up.
Next door, at Catholic Charities' Secure Waiting, all 251 beds have been full for months. The fear is that as the recession worsens existing shelters will be insufficient to house the newly homeless. "If 3M or Target lays off a few thousand workers and five hundred people show up at our doors all of a sudden, we won't be able to handle it," said Secure Waiting coordinator George Terrell. Every night, four or five new people show up at Secure Waiting seeking shelter, many of them victims of job loss or foreclosures from their rental property. "It's different people," Terrell said. "We're getting the guys with the deer in the headlights look. They're totally lost."
Now consider what's happening in
So called motel families exist by the hundreds in
President Obama's stimulus package may give hope to more people and blunt the projected rise of families who could end up in motels and shelters, according to Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in
The question I raise is this: Is it time for Americans to contribute whatever they can afford to groups providing assistance to the homeless, and even open their homes as well as their hearts? Could thousands and thousands of Americans still having good, stable jobs and incomes, and living in large homes open their doors and provide temporary shelter to families with young children that through no fault of their own have lost their jobs and homes? I think so. I think there are huge numbers of McMansions where there are many empty bedrooms, as well as second homes that are not being used all the time. Now is the time for Americans to come to the rescue of their fellow citizens. We cannot depend on the government to totally address homelessness.