The Keyword: People

Posted: December 8, 2008 in Employment, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Morality

Last week ended on a sour note for the U.S. economy – a very sour note, in fact.

Two of MSNBC’s headlines said it all: Economy lost another 533,000 jobs in November and Record 1 in 10 homeowners in mortgage trouble.

The loss of over half a million jobs in one month is the highest number lost in 34 years. The unemployment rate now stands a 6.7 percent – which is a 15 year high. Add to that, one out of ten homeowners being in mortgage trouble and that spells disaster.  

Earlier in the year, analysts and economic forecasters had predicted that the unemployment rate would reach 6 percent sometime in early 2009. With the figures issued this past Friday, it seems that were being conservative in their estimates. In fact, now they are expecting it to reach as high as 9 percent by mid next year.

According to the first article, the unemployment news could have been worse:

"The unemployment rate would have moved even higher if not for the exodus of 422,000 people from the work force. Economists said many of those people probably abandoned their job searches out of sheer frustration. In November 2007, the jobless rate was at 4.7 percent."

Basically, over 400,000 Americans gave up trying to find work.

When you consider that the jobs which are being created are not providing a livable wage, it’s understandable that folks would give up.

Saddest of all is that some of those folks will probably end up becoming homeless. No job means not being able to afford housing. Not being able to afford housing puts folks out on the streets. Even doubling up with family and friends is no longer a feasible option. Most folks are finding it hard enough to keep their own heads above water without having additional mouths to feed – even if they wanted to.

So where are these folks going to go?

Homeless shelters are finding their available resources stretched beyond the limit. They’re turning folks away in record numbers. In addition, most shelters are not tailored to accommodate the needs of homeless families – and those are the homeless which are being turned away most often. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, there is very little genuine government assistance to help them.

However, increasing the number of shelter beds isn’t a solution. While it may provide a temporary fix, it doesn’t address what it truly needed: a way to help the homeless find a way back into housing.

The reality is that programs which create the potential for the homeless to move up and out of homelessness do not exist. The services which do exist are "supportive" only – providing for day to day survival and nothing more.

These folks, who may find themselves without a home, aren’t bad people. They’re not derelicts or social misfits. I doubt that they were planning on becoming homeless. And for the most part, it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t to blame for ending up on the streets. They’re folks who were just doing the best they could in a failing economy.

Yet, once they become homeless, they may find themselves being stigmatized by those who still have roof over their heads. And, it’s all because of the word "homeless."

That word – because of our lack of awareness – has caused more grief and suffering for folks who’ve found themselves without a home. It has created social barriers difficult to overcome. And, it has invariably prolonged the amount of time many folks remain homeless.

As a society, we’ve turned the word into a "badge" of dishonor. We’ve used it as a synonym for drunkards, drug addicts, derelicts and social outcasts. We’ve also allowed it to obscure one salient fact: the homeless are people.

The homeless are folks we might know. They might be our former neighbors. They may have been our co-workers. Perhaps they sat next to us in our churches, mosques or synagogues. We might have attended school with them.

Now, because they find themselves without a home, we keep our distance. We avert our eyes if we happen to see them. We find excuses not to speak to them. We even assign blame – because after all, if they were responsible people they would have never ended up homeless, right?

The only way we can ever have the potential to address homelessness effectively is to recognize the truth: homelessness can and does happen to everyday people.

And… that’s the keyword: people.

  1. Skye says:

    It’s happening everywhere. People at my company are getting laid off. Right before Christmas. I’m thinking NO one is exempt!

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