Everyone Needs a Bed

Homelessness, poverty, recession—you would hope that a new year would wipe away all of the bad things that have happened to our nation, but it does not. We still wake up in 2013 with the same issues we had in 2012. Is there any hope in sight?

According to the U.S. Census, the official poverty rate was 15%. There were 46 million people in poverty. Mississippi was at 20.8%, New Mexico was 19.7%, Louisiana was 18.2%, South Carolina was 17.7%, and Arizona came in at 17.6$. To add more heartache, the poverty rate for children under age 18 was 21.9% across the country, with 32% of children in poverty in Mississippi, 31% in New Mexico and 29% in Louisiana.

Talking about our kids, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that the number of working youth dropped by almost half since 2000, and employment among young people is at the lowest level since the 1950s. Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce, which will lead to chronic underemployment as adults and failure to gain the skills employers will need in the coming years. This just feeds the cycle where they become another taxpayer cost with our government spending more to support them. When you consider that 20%, or 1.4 million, of these youths have children of their own, the cycle accelerates where this group can’t find full-time work and build a career, which now perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The dire consequence of poverty is homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports there are 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number, 239,403 are people in families and 392,945 are individuals. About 10% of the homeless population, 62,619 are veterans. During the year, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness. Twenty-three percent of people experiencing homelessness on any given night are children. Seven-hundred [and] seventy thousand homeless children are enrolled in public schools. An estimated 50,000 youth experience long-term homelessness. Also, homeless people spend four days longer per hospital visit than the normal population.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has $2.146 billion to spend to help the homeless, which is an increase of $245 million from last year, [b]ut this is really a town-by-town, city-by-city issue that has to be solved locally with help from the HUD budget. The Chicago Tribune reported in December where the DuPage County Public Action to Deliver Shelter, or PADS, finished 12 apartments partially funded by HUD to help transition the homeless into permanent residence. One woman had been homeless for nearly five years after working for more than 30 years. A family affected by unemployment and a disabling health condition was moved into an apartment. PADS served 1,398 individuals and 138 families that included 236 children. This was a 29% increase in families and 30% increase in children from last year. PADS gets the children enrolled in school and gets the family into a healthcare system so they don’t have to continue to use the emergency rooms.

As was reported in The Boston Globe, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless did a recent count one night, and 150 individuals were sleeping outside. The total number of homeless was 1,000 compared to 850 last year. Advocates say they need over 400 more beds to meet the demand of the winter season. [I]t goes on city by city, state by state—we are all counting those sleeping outside and the number of beds we need to take care of the underprivileged.

Now that the holiday season is over, many of us are suffering from compassion fatigue. We showed kindness, consideration and care to those in need from Thanksgiving through Christmas. It’s a new year, and we need to move on with our lives. The homeless, the poor—they can’t move on like the rest of us.

No one wants to be poor. No one wants to be homeless. As our leaders are battling in Washington, [D.C.], about how to spend our taxes, the issues of poverty and homelessness have got to be top of mind. Our leaders need to know that we as a nation can’t stand by and watch our fellow Americans suffer. Write your congressman. [W]rite your senator. Everyone needs to have a bed as we head into 2013.

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