Yesterday was Black Friday – the day which officially kicks off the holiday shopping season. It’s also the day when retailers generally expect to make buckets full of money. However, although shoppers were out en masse, according to the news reports I’ve read, shoppers were "behaving cautiously" with their spending – buying less expensive and/or more practical items. And, with good reason too. The current economic condition in the U.S. is far from being a healthy one.
Among the many news feed I receive, one article from Reuters in particular caught my attention: Poverty spreading in suburbs.
Once upon a time, the suburbs were the place where folks, who were a bit more affluent, would move to. Now it seems that suburban affluence is disappearing.
According to Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program director, Bruce Katz,
"Poverty is spreading and may be re-clustering in suburbs, where a majority of America’s metropolitan poor now live."
I found it interesting that Mr. Katz stated that the "…majority of America’s metropolitan poor" live in the suburbs.
The reality is that everyone is being affected by the current economic crunch.
Unemployment is at a 14-year record high. The numbers of folks losing their homes are also at record highs, with a projected 2 million properties facing foreclosure within the next 12 months. And consumer spending is at a 28-year low.
There is another thing which is going to occur as a direct result of this current economic crisis: more and more "middle-class" families are going to find themselves homeless. What makes the situation worse however is that there will not be enough resources available to meet the needs of those who will become newly homeless.
The service provided by most homeless support services organizations are already strained to the breaking point. This, however, isn’t due to any lack of wanting to provide services, but rather because of a lack of adequate funding.
The sad reality is that most communities resist the idea of expanding current homeless services. The general belief is that by increasing homeless services it will "draw" more homeless to their area. However, studies have already shown that the homeless do not migrate for services. In fact, the majority of folks remain within the exact same geographical area where they became homeless. Despite these studies however, most folks within a community – as well as their local elected officials – continue to hold onto their "if you build it they will come" mentality.
Take, for example, San Luis Obispo County.
According to a 2006 Homeless Enumeration Report, there were 2408 persons county-wide who were positively identified as being homeless. Of that number, only 473 homeless persons resided within the city of San Luis Obispo. In the northern part of the county there were 1153 homeless persons, and in southern SLO County there were 781 persons who were homeless.
Considering that the majority of homeless services are located in the city of SLO, if the homeless indeed migrated for services, it would be reasonable to conclude that the numbers of homeless should be higher there. Yet, they aren’t.
Nearly half of SLO County’s homeless reside in the northern part of the county – an area which has almost no services available to the homeless.
Despite this data, the "if you build it they will come" mentality persists in the minds of most folks. And, homeless services continue to be under funded.
Unfortunately, because of this mindset, as the numbers of homeless increase within a community and because there are not enough shelter beds to meet the need, more and more folks will find themselves forced to sleep outside in public places. And, as if to add insult to injury, the solution which most local governments will employ will be to pass or strengthen ordinances which prohibit the homeless from sleeping in public.
Yet, the only thing these ordinances really do is penalize folks for not having a place to live. They do nothing to actually reduce the numbers of homeless. Nor do they do anything to help the homeless regain a place in the community.
Foolish isn’t it?
I wonder how many folks will have to become homeless before we all wake up and realize that the methodology which has been used to provide services to the homeless doesn’t work?
How many more families will have to find themselves on the streets before politicians take notice?
How many more senior citizens will have to stand in line at a "soup kitchen" before elected leaders decide to adequately fund programs to help them back into housing?
How many more of our nation’s Veterans will face the indignity of being treated with disrespect by the very nation they served to protect simply because they have found themselves homeless?
How many more of our nation’s children will have to go hungry or have no place to sleep before we use our collective voice and demand that our politicians behave responsibly to ensure that no child is indeed "left behind?"
Compassion is a good thing to have. But it only has value if we put it into action.