Main Street, USA

Posted: December 29, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Children, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Money, Politics, Poverty

The New Year is right around the corner.

It’s a time of "out with the old and in with the new." And – in theory – it’s a time of new beginnings. For many American families, however, those "new beginnings" will be less than bright. In fact, for some, the hope of a "happy and prosperous New Year" will be swept aside by the basic struggle to survive.  

Imagine sitting comfortably in your home. You turn on the television and begin watching a program with this storyline:

"A family of four earlier this year barely struggled to make ends meet with gas prices above the $4 mark. Then came this year’s sudden downturn in the economy and with it the loss of the husband’s job.

For the first month after he lost his minimum-wage job, the family relied on area food banks to put food on their table, but the utility bills, the rent and the repairs to their only vehicle came pouring in.

Suddenly a notice came from the power company threatening to turn off their lights and finally came an eviction notice leaving the family with no place to go."

Depending on your particular tastes in entertainment you might or might not continue to watch the program. If you did sit through the entire episode, you might perhaps empathize with that family. You probably wouldn’t be overly concerned for them because those types of tragedies don’t occur in real life, do they? Besides, in the back of your mind you’d know that there would be a happy ending. Someone would come to their rescue and life would go on as before. After all, everyone knows that the homeless are dirty, smelly drunks, right?

Or are they?

What if I were to point out that the "storyline" above is from an article, Homeless families have no place to go, in the Central Kitsap Reporter?

On the National Center of Family Homelessness website, the fact sheet, About Family Homelessness, states:

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of American families become homeless. Within these families are more than 1.3 million children."

Although the numbers of homeless families has continued to increase steadily over the last two decades, federal funding to adequately address this issue has not.

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, there is an overall increase of 3 percent for fiscal year 2009 from FY 2008 in the federal budget allocated for homeless assistance programs. However, funding for Emergency Food and Shelter Programs has been decreased been by 35 percent. Consequently, shelters and other homeless services providers are forced to turn away families due to a lack of resources.

It’s easy to say that these displaced families should double up with relatives or friends. But, with the current economic recession, this is not always an option. Even for those families which have an income, the increasing lack of affordable housing makes it difficult for them to get off the streets.

Additionally, the types of stresses experienced by each member of homeless families – particularly the children – differ significantly than those faced by single persons.

In the fact sheet, The Characteristics And Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness, the National Center on Family Homelessness notes,

"Children experience high rates of chronic and acute health problems while homeless. The constant barrage of stressful and traumatic experiences also has profound effects on their development and ability to learn.

Families experiencing homelessness are under considerable stress. They may stay in multiple settings throughout the time they are without a home.

Homelessness also increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve, which may compound the stress the family feels."

In a December 6, 2009 radio address to the nation, President-Elect Obama made this statement:

"But we need action – and action now. That is why I have asked my economic team to develop an economic recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street that will help save or create at least two and a half million jobs, while rebuilding our infrastructure, improving our schools, reducing our dependence on oil, and saving billions of dollars."

I noted two things about this radio address:

First, he mentioned Wall Street before Main Street.

Second, although he did make reference to "Main Street," throughout his entire speech he did not utter one word about America’s homeless.

I found that odd because that is the place tens of thousands of American families now call home: the "Main Street" of our cities and towns.

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