Bureaucratic Ivory Towers

Posted: January 11, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality

This past Friday, almost every news media reported on the latest unemployment figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor. The news wasn’t good. With the loss of 524,000 in December, the unemployment rate had reached 7.2 percent.  

In addition, there had also been a revision of November’s numbers. Previously it had been reported that 533,000 jobs had been cut. It turned out, however, that November had seen a loss of 584,000 jobs. October, numbers had also been revised. Instead of 320,000, there were actually 423,000 folks who lost their jobs.

If I’ve done my math correctly, based on these newest figures, roughly 1,531,000 people found themselves out of work.

According to the Reuters article, Jobless rate at 16-year high as payrolls plunge,

"In all of 2008, 2.6 million people lost their jobs, the largest slump in employment since a 2.75 million drop in 1945."

What is so alarming about these numbers however is that more than half of those 2.6 million folks lost their jobs during the last three months of 2008. Not exactly the best way to have a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year, is it?

But, it doesn’t end there. The article quotes, Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, as saying,

"We expect the jobs hemorrhage to continue through much of 2009. The current pace of job losses means that the unemployment rate will rise into the 9 percent to 9.5 percent range – at a minimum – before leveling off."

The rise in unemployment has also caused an increase in homelessness. This is putting a strain on the resources of homeless support services agencies throughout the nation. Most are turning folks away. Subsequently, more folks are finding themselves forced to sleep out of doors and in public places.

The article, Homeless aren’t out of sight anymore, in the Colorado Springs Gazette, points out that the homeless population in their area has doubled within the last five years.

With regards to the reasons for the increase, Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, said,

"I’m not willing to concede we missed the boat, because we’re doing the same techniques as other cities to help the homeless and prevent homelessness"

I found that interesting, because it seemed to me that Mr. Holmes wasn’t sure why Colorado Springs was experiencing an increase in homelessness, despite HUD’s claims in late July of having reduced homelessness nationwide.

The reality is this: Colorado Springs hasn’t "missed the boat." Nor are they alone in seeing an increase in the numbers of homeless. City after city, all across the nation are reporting a rise in homelessness in their areas.

For example, a recent article in the Boston Globe, Homeless families rise 22% in a year, says in its very first paragraph,

"The number of homeless families living in Boston has jumped for the fourth straight year, making children without a home the fastest-growing group, according to results from the mayor’s annual census."

The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) issued their 20th annual Snapshot Survey of the Homeless in November of 2008.

137 rescue missions across North America were part of the survey. The report did not offer a rosy picture. And it, too, debunked HUD’s claims of having reduced homelessness.

These few examples of reports of increasing homelessness aren’t isolated incidents however. Almost daily, I come across articles or surveys which mention the rising numbers of homeless in some city or town – all of which leads me to one conclusion: HUD’s claims of having reduced homelessness do not represent the reality which agencies and organizations who provide services to the homeless are experiencing.

It also causes me to ask why?

Why has HUD claimed to have reduced homelessness, while those who are at "ground zero" say the numbers are rising? Someone’s numbers have to be incorrect.

To be quite honest, I’m more inclined to believe the numbers being reported by the many homeless support services agencies. After all, they are the ones who are working with the homeless on a daily basis. They have a "front line" view of what is happening. They are the ones who have continued to witness the rise in homelessness first hand.

HUD on the other hand, is locked up in its bureaucratic ivory tower – far from the din of reality.

Perhaps if HUD were genuine in its task of reducing homelessness across the nation, they might consider listening to those who provide services to their local area homeless.

Of course, I’m sure that HUD can probably find some "smoke and mirrors" method of trying to explain away the discrepancy between their claims and the reality on Main Street, U.S.A.

When they do however, I hope they remember the lesson of Pinocchio’s nose.

  1. Phil Rydman says:

    Those 137 rescue missions that participated in the annual demographic survey of homelessness for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions can tell you that there is no decline in the number of people on the streets. I know, I’m the one who collected the data from those missions.

    The group most likely to be impacted by the slow economy is women with children. In 2007, 55 percent of the families coming to rescue missions for assistance were headed by women. In 2008, that figure jumped to 66 percent of the families served.

    While that statement catches the attention of most people, it makes sense that families with one wage earner would be more likely to lose their home when that wage earner is downsized or the company goes out of business than families with two wage earners. Naturally, single-parent familes are more likely to become homeless. And the vast majority of single-parent families living on the edge of homelessness are led by women.

    Although I am not inclined to defend bureaucrats, I feel I must at least try to bring some clarity to the discussion of the number of homeless people in the U.S. During the last eight years, the administration has encouraged communities to develop 10-year plans to end “chronic” homelessness. By their definition, a chronic homeless person is one who has been homeless three or more times previously, or has been homeless more than 12 months continuously. The HUD claims from the past year have primarily been regarding a decrease in chronic homelessness. Those statements may actually be true.

    At the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, our member ministries are seeing an increase of 10 to 20 percent in the number of people currently seeking assistance over those coming to the rescue mission one year ago.

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