The Homeless Need More Than Blankets

In this land of plenty and this land of opportunity, [more than] 600,000 Americans experience homelessness on any given night, [including] 138,000 […] under the age of 18. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the national rate of homeless persons is 19 [in every] 10,000 people, with the highest [rate] in Washington, D.C., [at] 106 [for every 10,000]. Veterans are homeless at the rate of 27 for every 10,000, with [our nation’s capital] again [rating] the highest at 156.

[L]ack of affordable housing is considered the primary cause of homelessness. The government agency HUD […] has seen its budget slashed by over 50%, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units each year of subsidized low-income housing. Thirteen percent of the nation’s low-income housing has been lost since 2001. This country needs 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families, but, because we don’t have enough, 11 million families spend over half of their monthly income on rent. Add on top of this the over 5 million homes that have been foreclosed on since 2008, and it easy to understand why this country is where it is with our [inability] to help the homeless.

Homeless children, as defined by the federal “No Child Left Behind” program, include not just those living in shelters or transitional housing, but also those sharing housing [with others] due to economic hardships; living in cars, parks, bus or train stations; or awaiting foster care placement. Using this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 [that there are] 1,258,182 homeless children in [our country’s] public school [system], an 8% jump from 2013. Youth homelessness has increased 72% in the last seven years, [and] many of these youths exchange sex for food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs. Seventy-five percent of [our nation’s] homeless youth have either dropped out or will drop out of school.

As a caring society, what can we do about this?

Sports Illustrated (SI) just published a fascinating article on how more than 100,000 students on school teams are homeless. In the Mobile, Ala., county school system, 27.6% of homeless students competed for middle- and high-school teams. In Kansas City, Kan., 20% of homeless students competed. SI concludes that athletic programs are keeping homeless athletes away from outside factors that derail their chances for a successful future. Coaches often become mentors and surrogate parents, and pregame and post-game meals provide essential nourishment, while kids benefit from the exercise and structure in sports. […]

Homeless veterans are another story. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk for homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and substandard housing. [Approximately] 49,933 of these veterans are homeless on any given night. America’s homeless veterans served in World War II, the Korean War, [the] Cold War, [the] Vietnam War, [the] Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. Half of our current homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. [Eight] percent are female, while 40% are African-American or Hispanic.

The Washington Post reported our new Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary, Bob McDonald, […] announced an additional $207 million in funding for rapid-assistance grants to help 70,000 veterans keep their homes or return to permanent housing. [Another] $62 million will be dedicated to a rental-assistance program that would bring more than 9,000 chronically homeless veterans off the streets. [In total], the VA has committed more than $1 billion in 2014 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans. They have changed their approach to a “housing-first strategy” where they are focusing on providing veterans a place to live first and then help[ing] them with drug abuse, job searches and mental health. Previously, the VA insisted on health services first before offering housing.

Homelessness cannot be solved by the government alone, especially in times of government gridlock and lack of funds. This is a major problem that affects all of us, whether it involves the classmates of our kids or the war hero who was dedicated to protecting our country. There are many ways the average citizen can help by donating or volunteering. The Covenant House opens up its doors to help homeless youth. Stand Up For Kids helps homeless street kids. Move for Hunger helps collect food for those in need. Support Homeless Veterans works to get these forgotten heroes off the streets. […]

We all suffer when we allow our neighbors to go homeless, even for just one night. Our society suffers when we deny any of our children a good night’s sleep and a nourishing meal. With the limitless potential that many homeless youth have to make a lasting positive contribution to our communities, whether it is in science, humanities or sports, we cheat not only them but ourselves by not allocating dollars, either in the taxes we collect or the disposable income we can spare. Every child, veteran or family in need should have a shot at attaining our American dream, and, with a little help from all of us, America can help those 600,000 a night who suffer. This is one issue that is not political.

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