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by Jay Shaft
Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004 at 1:27 PM
Homeless families ask an important question: "How can America let this happen to us? Why can’t we get any help?"
Part one in a five part series on the alarming increases of homelessness, poverty, and hunger in America.
By Jay Shaft- Coalition For Free Thought In Media
AUTHOR'S NOTE: THIS IS A FREELY PROVIDED ARTICLE FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO PUBLISH IT, POST IT OR LINK TO IT, OR FORWARD IT TO ANYONE. PLEASE HELP DISTRIBUTE TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. THIS IS CRITICAL INFORMATION THAT EVERYONE MUST HAVE ACCESS TO .
Since the beginning of this year, there has been yet another shocking increase in the number of homeless families. The National Coalition for the Homeless is tracking 20-40% increases across the country, in every state and local area. From all recent reports from provider agencies, approximately 50-80% of new requests for shelter are going unmet.
These are some of the voices of the families lost in a world of poverty, homelessness, and despair. Many can not get any kind of help, no matter where the go.
This series of articles is an outlet for the people who are living through an overwhelming crisis. They want to tell everyone how bad it really is out there on the streets. Their voices will reveal the true depth of despair that many working class and low income families are living with on a daily basis.
I have spoken to over 300 families that have lost permanent housing. They tell horrifying tales of not being able to find emergency shelter for weeks or months at a time. They tell of the long housing list waits of two years or more, and how in many circumstances they don’t even qualify by HUD’s definition of homelessness.
It was really hard to hear them talk about the fear of reporting their true situation because they are afraid their children will be taken away. Many families are losing custody rights after a state agency removes their children when they tell the truth about being without shelter and access to food.
I wanted everyone to share a little of the pain and agony these families are experiencing. Many of the new cases of homelessness come from the middle class tax bracket. Their stories of trying to find help after years of normal existence are heart rending and touching.
These are the people who are getting lost in the flood of cases pouring in to every support agency around the country. Many grassroots and non-profit agencies are facing severe budget shortfalls in the midst of trying to cope with this rapidly growing crisis.
The enormity of the new crisis of homelessness and poverty is often hard to comprehend unless you hear the stories of families and crisis agency workers across the country. A true picture of how widespread and deeply rooted these problems have become is only apparent when you talk to thousands of relief workers and the millions of families they are struggling to assist.
Every American who is not fully aware of the problem, or is trying to ignore it, should make it an obligation to go down to your local homeless shelter, drop in/day center, or soup kitchen. Every one should make it their duty to spend at least one day seeing how it is to have no house, and no way to get any help in finding one. Just take a day out of your life and see how so many people are in this very desperate and horrifying situation.
If people are willing to look for themselves, they will be shocked by what they find in their local area.
There are record numbers of families reporting that they are sharing accommodations with others. Every major US city is reporting record numbers of people staying in shelters and emergency housing. As the waiting lists for public assistance are frozen, or local housing authorities stop issuing new vouchers for Section 8 or public housing, more families are forced out their houses.
Over the last few years, the number of homeless people who are unable to find any sort of help has skyrocketed. As agencies are overburdened, they are forced to turn people away for lack of space and funding. Since 2001 the number of requests for shelter has increased every year by at least 15%-20%, and the amount of people being denied services has also increased every year by at least 10-20%.
A severe lack of affordable housing in the United States combined with growing poverty is largely responsible for a major rise in the number of homeless families over the last few years.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition, an agency dedicated to ending the affordable housing crisis, has done extensive research into why many families are now losing shelter. NLIHC states that families across the country would need to earn a wage of .21 an hour, which equals an income of ,636 a year, to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average fair market rent. That is three times the current minimum wage earnings for someone working full time.
NLIHC also states that sixty five million low-income workers are experiencing housing problems. Currently 56 million low-income workers are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs. An average minimum wage earner would have to work 89 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit at 30% of their income.
What is really eye opening is that ninety five million people have one or more housing problem, such as being behind on the bills, or having an eviction notice or utility shutoff notice. That accounts for fully one-third of the U.S. population.
In no state does a full-time minimum wage job enable a family to pay fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. Welfare or disability assistance does not provide enough income for an individual to afford an apartment at the fair market rent anywhere in the United States.
A growing gap between wage earnings and cost of housing leaves millions of families unable to make ends meet. Adjusting for inflation, the current minimum wage is worth 27 percent less than it was in 1968. Many families are being forced to choose between rent or mortgage payments, and the basic necessities like utilities, food, and medical care.
AGENCIES SEEING MASSIVE CASE LOAD INCREASES, UNABLE TO MEET DEMAND
According to survey information I recently collected, approximately 50-70% of homeless family caseload increases cannot be placed in any type of housing programs because of the recent HUD program changes affecting the access to housing vouchers and emergency housing funds.
In many of my recent interviews and surveys of support agencies, the case workers, agency heads and housing managers pointed toward the HUD FY2004 program changes as being the biggest ongoing problem in trying to find permanent housing placement for families. Not all the agencies I contacted were able to confirm this, but a majority of them were at least able to provide anecdotal information if they did not have hard figures.
To really get a good idea of the extent and effects of the HUD voucher-funding crisis, you have to take a look a survey conducted by the Center on Budget Policy Priorities. http://www.cbpp.org/7-15-04hous-glossary.htm#Freezing
Less than 30% of those families who are eligible for low-income housing ever receive it, and as more voucher program cuts take place, the CBPP expects that number to drop below 20%. To know that millions of people lack housing, but never get the help they need is truly disheartening and sickening. Denying any family a place to live is a terrible sign of government policies gone wrong, with a vengeance.
When you see the problems that were predicted by local and regional HUD housing agencies, then you get an idea why there are so many new instances of families losing their houses and everything they own.
The fact that this type of problem is growing points to the true economic disaster the US is going through. The current failure of the government to provide any real solutions to the problem is an alarming sign of the dire straits this country is really in.
Mike Battory is the program director for transitional and emergency housing with Religious Community Services in Clearwater, Florida.
When asked if he thought it was a long-term crisis or just a temporary increase in displaced families, he responded with some real irritation and anger.
"I have only been with RCS/Grace House since last year. I have already seen an increase in family homelessness I could not possibly have imagined" he said.
"There are so many more families needing services that we can’t ever reach, it makes you so wonder what it will take to get the public to see this crisis," he stated with frustration.
He has a sorrowful look on his face when he talks about the difficulty placing people in long-term housing.
"The public and Section 8 housing is full, with very few exceptions," he said. "What do I tell a family? That I’m doing the best that I can? That’s just not good enough!" he replied angrily. "Doing all that we can isn’t helping all the people falling through the cracks. Where do they end up?"
Marty and Lisette live with their four children in an abandoned auto parts and tool fabrication factory in south Florida. Marty used to be the shop manager before the company moved their fabrications operation to China and India.
They have been there for the last four months since their Section 8 housing voucher was cancelled. They had just received the voucher after a three-year wait, but they only had a limited time to find a housing unit.
Marty expressed some remarkable amusement when he talked about the location his family was living in. "Do you believe in irony? This is a f**king joke, it has to be a joke, because I’ll just break down and cry if I really think about it. I used to make ,000 a year working here, plus my bonus pay, that made it about 5,000 a year."
He almost can’t continue, but he says it is easier than not talking about it.
"I got to face it, man this happened to my family, we are on the street, this is the US, not China or something. Some guy in China has my job, and I got sh*t, but what the hell, I got the factory to live in," he says haltingly.
"Man this just sucks, it ain’t even like what I thought. We have some power hooked up and a small fridge and stove, but there’s never food for all of us," he says with tears running down his face. "I busted my ass here for fourteen years, and then those a**holes just took away our jobs, then f**ked us out of all our benefits. I paid for all my own medical and retirement, so when they up and hauled ass, my money went down the sh**ter. They had been matching my 401K deductions, but I didn’t even see my half of all that money. Oh f**k! Those slimy f**king bastards, it had to be at least 0,000 because I put all my savings and stock options into my pension fund."
Lisette has some hope for her family, but it is quickly being crushed by all the red tape keeping them without a home.
"We had a voucher, so we thought we were going to be able to get a house. We were in a shelter for almost six months, then we left because we had the voucher," she says with a shaky voice. "We could still be at the shelter, but we left because if we took the voucher we couldn’t stay any longer. Now they took our voucher back, and we have to live here in this nasty place."
"How can you give a family a three month deadline to use a voucher?" she asks. "The shortest waiting lists for even the worst housing are over a year long. How can they do that to a family, how can they do that? How can they put a time limit on you if they know you can’t even find a place before it runs out? They have to know that almost all the vouchers will never get used, and that way they won’t have to pay for them."
Maccanon Brown is Director of Repairers of Breach, the only community based, grassroots supported street outreach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Repairers is not funded with any type of grant or government dollars, instead they rely on local community support for their funding needs.
"We are seeing a huge increase in homeless families, and it’s way beyond 20-30%, so far beyond that. It is just frightening, I mean I was already worried and scared after last year, now I’m just shocked all over again" she says. "The homeless families are just absolutely uncountable, of course primarily because so many people are living doubled up or tripled up, or in motels or cars. It’s just enormously frightening to know you are on the front line, to know it’s going to be worse than anything before, and then know you don’t have any kind of resources that will match the need."
"We’ve never seen or heard of this many instances of families living in shared accommodations, it’s just not even possible to factor for that type of thing," she explains. "This is something we can’t even plan ahead for, it’s not something they are budgeting for, because all those people sharing housing just don’t officially exist. They are completely hidden from public view, and there’s a dedicated effort to ignore the fact that it’s going on."
She voices increasing anger and frustration as she continues to describe the situation. "If you don’t have hard figures, if you don’t officially count these people as homeless, you don’t have to provide funding or long range plans to deal with it. Last year Milwaukee Public Schools released figures on homeless children for the first time ever."
"They tried to identify all the children who could be considered homeless under the "No Child Left Behind" criteria, and the numbers were just off the charts," she says with a pained tone of voice. "It was a shocking phenomenon to see those figures, because most of the kids were in doubled up housing, and by HUD’s official categories of homelessness, they just didn’t count."
"Let me tell you what is really happening to those of us in the highways and byways, who are very close to the affected families. We can tell you a very different story than what the government’s official views seem to be," she says emphatically. "We are witnessing terrible, near holocaust problems, that’s the reality of what we see, just a massive decimation of a whole segment of the population. It’s just so awful to see it every day, it’s so agonizing, so tragic."
YET ANOTHER INCREASE IN HOMELESS FAMILIES IN 2004
40-45% of the overall homeless population consists of families and single women with children. 26% of the homeless parents live with one child, 28% live with two children, and 30% live with three or more children.
The support agencies themselves report very troubling trends that point towards ever-increasing levels of homelessness and an absolute inability to meet the basic requests of those who most desperately need help.
Donald Whitehead, Executive Director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, says that they have tracked at least 30-35% increases in homeless families since January. He concurs that some cities are experiencing increases as high as 45-50%.
"Absolutely, in some places it’s that high," he said. "On a national average that’s what we are seeing, at least a 30% increase in all areas. Of course there hasn’t been a comprehensive study to look at this. Through anecdotal evidence that we’ve received from our network of over 350 state and local coalitions, that’s what we see."
He emphasizes the fact that the crisis of homeless families is growing worse and in no way matches the official government reports.
"Homeless families have been the largest growing sector of the overall homeless population for the last few years," he said. " We have particularly been concerned that in spite of this knowledge, HUD has made what we believe to be some very questionable policy decisions."
"We think that it will only exacerbate the issue of the growing number of homeless families, the ones that aren’t even counted but that we keep hearing about," he stated.
He expressed dismay with how bad the situation has become. "Homeless families now comprise over 40% of the current homeless population, how much higher will they allow it to go? We tracked a 39% increase in homeless families in 2003, now we see this happening again, without any end in sight."
When you talk to the families and support agencies, you realize that the vision of George Bush and his administration is nothing like the reality on the streets.
In the midst of agencies crying out for help, the Bush administration has made many positive proclamations about how good the economy is. The major emphasis has been on how prosperous America is right now. The theme of a growing economy, renewed prosperity, and new jobs for everyone has been one of the biggest background issues of the recent Bush campaign speeches
On April 21st, 2004 President George W. Bush made these remarks at the Newspaper Association of America Annual Convention.
"We're prosperous now, which is good -- particularly if you're a guy seeking the vote. New jobs are being created, I think we had 308,000 in the month of March. Homeownership is at the highest rate ever, which is really positive for America. Inflation is low. Interest rates are low. And the economy is growing, which is good news." http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040421-5.html
In his speech to the Urban League on July 23, 2004 he made these remarks.
"Let me tell you something hopeful about the country. For the first time in our history, a majority of families and minority groups own their own homes. We're making progress. People are saying, this is my home. And we must continue the progress we're making." http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/07/20040723-8.html
HOPE? PROSPERITY? THE FAMILIES CAN TELL YOU HOW BAD IT REALLY IS
Amy, 25, is a single mother of three children living in a weekly motel in Atlanta, Georgia. Last year when I spoke to her she was barely able to keep up with her mortgage payments. Since then she has lost the house and been living with her mother or different family friends.
"I fought the bank for almost six months, but in January I just gave up. I couldn’t get any more credit and I had borrowed thousands from my family and friends. I couldn’t get myself any deeper in debt, so we put all our stuff in storage, and moved in with my mom."
"I was living the promise of the American small business owner," she said angrily. "Now I don’t have a pot to piss in and I lost everything I had ever worked for."
" I can’t even get a HUD voucher now because they cancelled the new ones," she says, wiping away tears. "Even if I got a voucher, the waiting list to get into an apartment that accepts them is at least two years."
"I have a small group of close family and friends, and we keep moving from house to house. I just want a place to settle in to for good, but I can’t get my power or water turned on anywhere because of how much money I owe. We are stuck in this crazy cycle of settling in and then moving on again a few weeks later."
"How can Americans just watch this keep happening? How in the world can you refuse to look at all the families, how can you?" she asks beseechingly. "Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor and help them? How can anyone turn their back on their us, how can they pretend it doesn’t happen? Are we even real to anyone? Do they really see us, or are we just invisible, are we just ghosts wandering around that no one wants to see?"
She then went into bitter tirade against George W. Bush and his "Leave No Child Behind" promise, and all the promises of economic revival and prosperity for the working class.
"George Bush should try living my life for a week," she spits out angrily. "He should come down from his f**king high horse and bust his ass like the hard working people I know. Brighter future and economic prosperity my ass. What a sick joke on all the hardworking Americans, all of us who really make America with our sacrifice and labor."
Her outraged comments are very similar to the ones she made last year at this time, when she was in final mortgage foreclosure on her house.
"All I have to say to these rich a**holes that took over our country is that the little people are getting chewed up and spit out. We are getting f**ked hard and used for stupid campaign speeches and publicity!" she screams, face turning purple with rage. "They don’t have any interest or concern for all the working class people out there who are drowning in debt and poverty."
"The hard working Americans are still desperately trying to believe the lies about an economic recovery, but they all know deep down it’s all bullsh*t," she yells out. "You can talk all day, it won’t change, and we’re all still broke and homeless and hungry. Every time you hear the news, everything’s getting better. Bullsh*t, bullsh*t, bullsh*t, it’s all so much government bullsh*t!"
Katherine Preston, executive director of the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness, provides some very graphic details about the situation among homeless single mothers and families. "We find that we are seeing a major problem in rural areas, that have been particularly hard hit by loss of industry, with all the businesses that have been shutting down."
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, single mothers, and children comprise the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas.
"I think a lot of it is the increasing cost of housing, the lack of affordable housing is probably the biggest reason," she states. "We are finding that a lot of our women are working poor, and the cost of available housing is at such a high level they can’t even think about getting in."
Preston points out the fact that many people cannot afford the various fees for applications and background checks. "Many of them are finding out that after they put in several rental applications, they are out of money and still haven’t found a place."
"Lots of families are staying in the weekly hotel/motels, and all of them are full," she reports. "They are just living from week to week, without seeking permanent housing, because they can’t even afford the application fees. Many of them have outstanding utility bills, and they can’t even get back in a place until they get that cleared up."
"That’s a big factor that’s mostly hidden, but it is keeping many families and mothers in motels or staying with friends and family," she says. "Our emergency assistance dollars that become available at the beginning of the month are always gone in a matter of hours, the appointments for the whole month are filled before the end of the first day."
"Eviction notices and utility bills usually come in the middle of the month, and by the time someone gets a final notice or eviction, they can’t access the emergency aid," she says with a frustrated sigh. "We get so many calls when all the agencies are overloaded, it’s amazing how many we get that can’t be helped at all."
"About 80% of our requests for shelter and emergency assistance are going unmet, that’s statewide. We just don’t have the resources to deal with this," she explains. "We’re absolutely overwhelmed, there is no coping with this, it just isn’t something we are able to do after our last years budget was slashed. The cry for help is really not something they are considering in Washington, we’re stuck trying to deal with this and we know we can’t with this current budget."
MORE MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES BECOMING HOMELESS
Shelly C. is a 47 year-old mother of three, now living on the streets in Dallas, Texas. She is among the many families with middle class backgrounds now experiencing homelessness for the first time.
Her husband died last year and her job paying ,000 was not enough to keep up with the mortgage and bills. She has been homeless since his death benefits ran out in February.
Her oldest daughter ran away with a boyfriend and has since turned eighteen. No one will look for her now because she is legally an adult, and can’t be listed as a missing child anymore.
"Oh God! My daughter is out there somewhere!" she screams. "I know she is either homeless or in a very unstable situation, because the man she left with is disabled and can’t work. How can I try to solve my problems when I am so worried about her?"
Shelly had a nervous breakdown last month and has been prescribed sleeping pills and tranquilizers. She has access to crisis counseling through a HUD grant because her health insurance expired earlier this year.
"I never had any problems coping with my problems before all this stuff piled up," she states. "I didn’t even think about stuff like this, not about it happening to me at least."
"I had a nice house and a really good job. After my husband died it took me several months to even figure out my finances. I went through all our life savings in about three months, then the slide down hill got too fast to stop."
"I want to let people know that we were in a very high tax bracket," she says insistently. "This can happen to anyone, no matter how much you make or have saved. All you have to do is miss a few payments, and the late fees alone will kill you. Now we live in abandoned houses, or my car when the police find out we’ve been living somewhere. We constantly move around between a few vacant buildings to stay one step ahead of the cops"
"I think we could get some help, but what if they take my kids away?" she wails. "What if they take my kids because I tried to get us some help? I couldn’t live with them in foster care, I just couldn’t!"
"How come no one listens? How come no one hears me screaming for help?" she asks pleadingly. "Do you even care that we live like this? Does anyone even give a sh*t? I don’t see it, I can’t believe anyone even cares."
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has done an extensive survey, which shows that at least half of all homeless people are denied needed services and basic benefits because they lack proper identification.
For many families on the move due to lack of affordable housing, residency restrictions and lack of the proper state identification keeps them from being able to enroll for public housing and emergency shelter.
"When states create unreasonable barriers to acquiring identification, they only exacerbate and prolong homelessness," said Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP Executive Director. "It’s critical that states develop a process of issuing IDs that prioritizes security and integrity without being so needlessly burdensome or unreasonable that it is impossible to obtain one."
The NLCHP also found that many families were being denied food stamps, medical insurance, and Social Security. Here are the percentages of those who were denied those services and benefits in a month’s time: SSI 51.5%; TANF, 30.6%; Food Stamps, 53.1%; housing or shelter services, 54.1%; and medical services, 45.1%.
"These are the benefits and services often most critical to families and children living in poverty," Foscarinis said in an April 20th, 2004 press release. "The program simply isn’t performing when over half of all potential clients are being turned away even before they complete an application."
Being without an officially documented proof of need, especially when the head of household lacks identification or paperwork, prevents many people from being added to the already strained waiting lists.
In many cities and counties, families have to show proof of established residency for a period of six months to a year, and have proof of income and rental receipts. For a family that has been sharing housing or living in motels, or is newly arrived, it is practically impossible to document any type of financial shortfalls.
Even if a family can prove they have lost their housing, they are still not guaranteed to get any emergency help. Most agencies have to the factor the amount of emergency assistance they can provide, based on documented income levels and rental and utility payments.
Agencies are having extreme difficulty providing aid to transient families, because of the lack of official documentation. Those that are precariously housed in motels or shared housing present even greater challenges in trying to work within the strict categories set by HUD and other government agency guidelines.
FAMILIES NOT FITTING IN THE HOMELESS CATEGORY, STILL WITHOUT HOUSING
Misty, 27, has lived in a tent in the wooded hills of Los Angeles County with her two small children for almost nine months. She is constantly in fear that another homeless person or the police will find her campsite and take what little clothes and property she has left.
"I don’t sleep to well at night. I just can’t take a chance with my girls will get hurt or taken away by someone. I go to a friend’s house during the day so I can get a few hours of sleep, just enough to stay up for the night."
"I have a few people in the woods around me that watch over us, but I don’t really trust anyone but myself right now," she said. "I just want to find a place, even a run down motel if that’s all that’s open."
"I don’t know, some of the motels that I can afford are really dangerous. I am afraid of them even more than being in the tent," she says with a confused sigh. "I just get so mixed up I don’t know what to do. The only time I get any peace is when my ex-husband agrees to take the kids for a few days."
Misty says she has applied for Section 8 housing in over thirty apartment complexes. "I have had a voucher for over three months, and I’m on a list to get into an apartment by the middle of next year. That’s if they decide not to stop taking them before that. That already happened with three places that had me on the waiting list."
"By the time I even find an open apartment, they have hundreds of people asking about it. Usually any slots that come open at the first of the month are filled within five minutes after announce a vacancy," she explains.
"How long do they think I can keep this up?" she asks. "Why do they let all these families keep sleeping outside or in nasty rundown motels? It’s not the way decent and caring people are supposed to treat you. How come they keep pushing us out of sight? Damn it, how can people be so blind?"
Dr. Bob Erlenbusch is Vice President for the National Coalition for the Homeless and Executive Director of the LA Coalition To End Hunger and Homelessness, a community based task force dedicated to wiping out poverty and seeking housing solutions.
He is completely exasperated by the HUD cuts. Erlenbusch says Section 8 changes are causing more families to become homeless in LA and the surrounding areas.
We have seen an enormous increase in homeless families since January, at least a 50% increase in new cases," Erlenbusch declared. "400 homeless families were recently denied a Section 8 voucher, these are homeless families I am talking about, ones that were living in emergency shelters at the time. 1500 other families got denied at the same time, and most of them are now homeless."
"We have close to 10,000 families that are in imminent danger of losing their Section 8 housing by the end of the year, and at least half will probably become homeless."
He has an almost defeated sound in his voice when he talks about the growing number of uncounted families without any type of permanent shelter.
"There have to be at least 35,000 to 45,000 homeless families living in Los Angeles County alone, and there are probably at least 100,000 to 150,000 in the greater LA area," he explains. "Those kind of numbers make you feel so helpless, you just hate to see anyone be without a home, and here in greater LA we have literally hundreds of thousands of homeless people. It’s so far out of control, we’re doing everything we can to cope, but the flood just gets bigger."
"I would say there are at least 250,000-300,000 people living here in shared housing conditions, oh at least that many. We have never had the enormous number of cases that we see now, and this is just the numbers that came in at the end of the year," he reports. "If I had to even guess with all the recent housing problems going on this year, there has to be at least another 50,000 families who have moved in with someone else. There’s no way to really know for sure, but I am comfortable with those figures, knowing that I am really going to the low side of what I have an idea it might really be."
"How far can we let this go before it’s becomes impossible to fix? How much longer can people turn away from it?" he asks. "Ignoring the problem has gotten us to the point where it will take years to recover, and it might be too late now. I know how bad this whole thing is but even I can’t give you the complete numbers. It’s just not possible, you just have to collect all the different reports, add it together, and hope you’re close to some sense of the big picture"
"Turning away doesn’t make the problem go away, it just makes it easier for people to stay happy, content and complacent," he says angrily. "Complacency has put us in the middle of the biggest crisis we might ever face, this is turning into the biggest economic disaster we could ever see. I know that we haven’t ever seen something on this large a scale ever before."
Maccanon Brown has some further thoughts on why so many Americans seem to be ignoring the problems in their very midst.
"What we have is a societal denial, a huge effort to deny that this is a problem," she says. "Or you see an attempt by our society to create a vast group of untouchables, shadow people in every sense of the word."
"You see it at every level of society, a disregard for their human rights, their civil rights, of homeless families in the court system," she states. "You see people being branded by every level of society, they are called worthless bums, and the children have to carry the stigma of being homeless throughout their entire lives."
"People are being treated as subhuman, as unwanted, unneeded, who just don’t need any help. The biggest misconception is that people want to be homeless, that they are on the streets by choice," she clarifies. "It’s just easier to ignore that way, if there is a general attitude like this in the background. That’s what the public is likely to perceive if they don’t take time to get to know the reasons and facts."
AGENCIES AND FAMILIES FRUSTRATED WITH GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
Malachi, 29, and his girlfriend Diana, 24, have three children. They have been moving back and forth between a string of low rent motels and a patch of woods near St. Louis, Missouri.
Malachi sums up their situation very concisely. "We don’t stay in the woods long enough to be considered homeless, but they don’t want to count staying in over ten motels in six months as being ‘truly homeless’."
His face gets red and he raises his voice when he talks about it for any length of time. "How can they do this to all the kids?" he asks. "How the hell can you not be able to do anything unless they are totally without a roof over their heads? Man, I can live out here for years and it wouldn’t really hurt me. My kids can’t do that, they shouldn’t have to keep doing it when there is money out there."
"If I do tell the state that we are living in the woods I probably will go to jail, and we’ll never see our kids again. Diana has nightmares about that all the time, she wakes up screaming and gets up and looks for the kids."
He really gets worked up as he thinks about it. "Man, that is something a mother has to deal with here in this country, here in America? How in the hell did that happen? I thought we were the best country in the world, what the f**k happened to that?"
He makes no effort to hide his anger at George Bush and the supposed economic recovery. "Bush is full of shit man, totally full of shit! I was a small business owner and a die-hard Republican. No way will that a**hole get my vote this year, no f**king way! He failed every one of us families out here on the street, and yeah I am on the street, they just won’t admit it."
"I am through listening to them when they say it’s getting better and we all will have a house real soon. All you have to do is go to any shelter or drop in center. Take some time out of your life and ask all those people if they are doing any better," he says bitterly. "How bout every body tries that one out, you’ll never believe that official load of sh*t ever again. I’ll be the first to give you a few lessons if you got any doubts. Come see how my kids are living, and all the other ones around here that get hidden away and ignored!"
Mike Battory sums up the feelings of the agencies and caseworkers concerning their ability to cope with the increased needs of the families in dire need for shelter.
"I think we are just seeing the beginning of an even greater increase in families without shelter," he said adamantly. "I thought the requests for shelter would decrease after the first few months of this year. In fact our demands are still increasing alarmingly, and we don’t have any place to put people."
"I just don’t know how we are going to cope with this," he said with a pained sigh. "I can’t believe it has gotten this extreme, I never expected something this overwhelming."
The bottom line is that all these new cases of homelessness are overwhelming every agency, in the midst of drastic program cuts and funding losses.
Despite official government proclamations of renewed economic prosperity and job growth, the level of homeless families continues to rise with alarming frequency. Every agency that provides any type of homeless shelter or services can tell you how it really is. They will tell you it seems to be the biggest domestic crisis this country has ever faced.
Part Two of this series "Not Officially Homeless-The Invisible People: The plight of millions of families who lost their homes and now share housing " will be released on Sunday.
For further information and details on the surveys and reports used for this article series go to the following links.
WHO IS HOMELESS NCH Fact Sheet #3, May 2004
Homelessness in the United States: Hunger and Homeless Facts
NLIHC PRESS RELEASE: http://www.nlihc.org/press/pr021204.html
65 Million Low Income People Have Housing Problems, 2/12/04 (PDF FILE FORMAT)
CBPP STUDY DETAILS CUTS IN LOCAL HOUSING
AID CAUSED BY HUD FUNDING CHANGE
FURTHER ACTION BY HUD NEEDED TO HALT CUTS IN
HOUSING ASSISTANCE FOR LOW-INCOME FAMILIES – Updated 7/15/04
HUD Policy Is Forcing Many Housing Agencies to Impose Cuts Even Though Congress Provided Sufficient Funding to Support All Vouchers http://www.centeronbudget.org/4-26-04hous.htm
HUD Decision Puts Thousands at Risk of Homelessness
NAHRO Study: Agency Implements Deficient Section 8 Renewal Policy
"Implementation of FY2004 Consolidated Appropriations Act Provisions for the Housing Choice Voucher Program. HUD Notice PIH 2004-7
"Homeless Face Increasing Identification Hurdles Post 9/11: NLCHP Study Finds Heightened I.D. Restrictions Deny Many Access to Food and Shelter Benefits http://www.nlchp.org/Press/detail.cfm?PRID=30
U.S. Conference of Mayors - Sodexho Hunger and Homelessness Survey 2003
Hunger, Homelessness Still On the Rise in Major U.S. Cities; 25-City Survey Finds Unemployment, Lack of Affordable Housing Account for Increased Needs
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jay Shaft is the Director of Mid-Pinellas Homeless Outreach in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is also the co-founder/editor of the free speech media group Coalition For Free Thought In Media. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia/
Contact author or send comments firstname.lastname@example.org
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