I began experiencing a bit of "cabin fever" yesterday afternoon, so I decided to step out and get a cup of ice coffee. Afterward, with coffee in hand, I decided to take a walk about and eventually found myself sitting on a public bench.
For a while I just sat and watched folks walking here and there. I don’t know where any of them were coming from or where they were going. A few times I’d see one person in particular and wonder to myself who they were; what their lives were all about; what they did for a living; were they single or married; did they have children.
Before too long however, I found myself thinking; reflecting on the various people I’ve met just since I began authoring this blog.
It’s a diverse group: all of these people I’ve met.
Some are professionals. Some are blue collar workers. Some are artistic types. Some aren’t. Some have a higher education. Some barely have a high school diploma. Different political views. Different theological beliefs. Some are married. Some are in domestic partnerships. Some are single. Some are parents. Some of them have homes. Others are renters. And some of them are homeless.
Yes, it’s a pretty diverse group.
The one commonality all of them have is that they are trying to do the best they can with their present circumstances.
Currently the economy in the U.S. stinks. Prices for goods and services have sky-rocketed. More and more businesses are cutting back; downsizing. And this means there are folks who are finding themselves unemployed. Housing costs are so obscenely and artificially blown out of proportion, it’s wonder that there aren’t more homeless in the community.
I was speaking with Suckerfish director, Jose Lemus, the other day and he mentioned that he knows a number of people who are moving out of the area. They can no longer afford to live in the community. They are having to sell their homes at a loss. They’re doing this to avoid being foreclosed on.
This year, there will be approximately 3.5 million persons who will experience homelessness.
Some will be fortunate: their homelessness will be short term. For others, it will be an experience that lasts for half a year or longer. Sadly, for others, their homelessness might stretch as long as a couple of years. Sadder still, are those who will never recover from the experience.
A number of the folks I’ve met in the last 16 months or so are folks who are living paycheck to paycheck. After they pay their bills and put some food into their cupboards and refrigerators have little or nothing left over. One financial emergency and they could find themselves on the streets.
I’ve also met some who are on a fixed income. They too, are in a precarious financial situation. One small glitch in the system and they might not receive their checks next month. And that could easily force them into homelessness.
Some of the homeless I’ve met have full time jobs. Unfortunately those jobs aren’t positions that pay a "livable wage." There is no way for them to find housing on what they make. Even with the low-income housing assistance programs, housing isn’t something that is on the near horizon for them: there just aren’t enough low-income housing units available to go around.
There are a few of them who have had to pass up rentals because those units are located in a different part of the county and they work in San Luis Obispo proper. To be sure, there is a bus system which would allow them to travel back and forth, but that takes money. Even with a monthly regional bus pass it would take enough of a chuck out of their paycheck that they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay rent. Minimum wage doesn’t go as far as it used to – and it never went very far in the first place.
There are probably some who would say that the simplest solution would be for them to take the apartment, and then find employment nearer to where they are going to live. But it’s just not that easy. Not every town in the county has a plethora of job openings.
I don’t know… perhaps the fact that there are places to rent in some of the other towns in the county is in direct proportion to the lack of employment openings in those same areas.
When I finally looked at my watch, I realized that I had been sitting on that bench for a little over an hour and a half.
Last night, when I crawled into bed, I again thought about all of those folks I’ve met.
I hope that none of the housed folks I’ve met finds themselves becoming homeless…
…and I hope that some of the homeless I know will somehow find a way of becoming housed.