One of the news alerts I received this past weekend was an article, Homelessness is real for working poor, in the Union Democrat from Sonora, California.
The article told the plight of Eileen Pagni, who has been homeless in the Sonora area since 2004.
Ms Pagni has called a tent, a travel trailer and a homeless shelter home for the last four years. What makes her story all the more poignant is that she is one of America’s working homeless. According to the article, Ms. Pagni has been employed steadily over the last four years.
"For the homeless, every day is a struggle to make ends meet. Pagni has been steadily employed as a maid at the Inns of California in downtown Sonora for the past four years."
Despite this however, she has been unable to find housing. Her job pays only minimum wage. Affordable housing is difficult to find. Her struggle to achieve a part of the American dream pretty much unattainable.
Three sentences from the article caught my attention,
"Permanence in residence has eluded Pagni, who was born and raised in Tuolumne County.
She is one of a small, but underestimated, number of homeless people in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. They include those who, like Pagni, work."
In particular, the word "underestimated" stood out like a flare on a dark night.
That word – underestimated – could be taken in different contexts: that the numbers of working homeless have been under counted, or that the working homeless have been underestimated by the mainstream community. Either would be applicable.
One of the most prevalent misconceptions that so many have regarding the homeless is that the homeless are lazy and do not want to work. But consider this fact: 30 percent of all homeless people are employed on a full-time or part-time basis.
- Less than 6% of the homeless are homeless by choice
- Many people who are homeless have completed high school. Some have attended college and even graduate school
- Many homeless people have lost their jobs after years of employment
- Two trends largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years are: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty
All one has to do is look at the currently economic situation within the U.S. and you can see how homelessness can occur to almost anyone in the proverbial blink of an eye.
The national unemployment rate is roughly 5.5 percent – which translates to about 8.5 million people who do not have employment. Very few of the jobs which are being created are providing a "livable wage." The numbers of foreclosures are at an all time high, with an estimated 2 million properties which will be affected by the housing crisis over the next 12 months. Some 47 million American’s do not have health insurance. The costs of goods and services have skyrocketed.
Homelessness is happening to average everyday folks. Single adults are becoming homeless. Families are becoming homeless. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming homeless. Senior citizens are becoming homeless.
It’s easy to point a finger at the homeless and proclaim that they need to go out, get a job and stop "sponging off of the rest of us." However, even if they are able to find employment, unless they can also find affordable housing, they are still going to be homeless and they are still going to need homeless support services. And, those costs are still being paid for by the taxpayer.
There is no one perfect solution to ending homelessness in our nation.
I personally don’t believe that there will ever come a time when the need for homeless support service agencies become obsolete. I hope I’m wrong though. I would dearly love to see the day when there is no need for homeless shelters; when no person had to dig through trash cans looking for something to eat; when no one had to use their vehicle as a their home; and when no child had to celebrate Christmas in a homeless shelter.
The truth is that there are few folks who are completely impervious to potentially becoming homeless. About 1 in 4 American’s are living paycheck to paycheck – which makes them prime candidates for homelessness. Even those who have a bit of disposable income at their disposal are feeling the pinch.
The next time you happen to see a homeless person standing on some corner with a cardboard sign; or see some person trudging down the street with their back bent over under the weight of their backpack; or spot a homeless person digging through a trash can think about this:
Unless you are a Warren Buffett type who is so financially set that you can throw money away and not blink an eye, you are just as likely a candidate as the next person to experience homelessness someday. And if that day does happen to come upon you…