They’re Not Bums. They’re Homeless.

Posted: March 6, 2009 in Children, Compassion, Discrimination, Employment, Family, Health, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Money, Morality

To say that the nation’s current economic situation is one of the biggest concerns in the lives of most private citizens would be an understatement. It has quite a number of folks extremely worried – so much so that they’re losing sleep over it.

An article on the Science Daily website said:

"One-third of Americans are losing sleep over the state of the U.S. economy and other personal financial concerns, according to a new poll released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF)."

And things do not look as though they’re going to improve anytime in the immediate future.  

A Reuters article, U.S. private sector bleeds jobs, services slump deepens, which I read a couple of days ago used this as an opening:

"U.S. private companies hemorrhaged nearly 700,000 jobs in February and the service sector slump deepened as the year-old recession showed little sign of abating, according to data released on Wednesday."

Hemorrhaged. A rather scary word, yet somehow strangely appropriate.

The job market has become a gaping wound and there doesn’t seem to be any effective triage for the situation taking place.

As the numbers of those who become unemployed continues to rise, the potential for an increase in homelessness also rises.

To be sure, those who are newly becoming unemployed are able to file for unemployment benefits. However, those benefits will be only a fraction of their original income – and consequently, barely enough to cover day to day expenses. Hardest hit will be families.

Another article, In past 2 years, 87 million in U.S. went uninsured – also from Reuters – stated that "… the lack of access to health insurance in the United States is more widespread than government statistics suggest."

Many in our nation get their health coverage through their employers. In addition, their families are most often times covered under the same policy. For those who have been so unfortunate to have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn, they’ve also lost their medical coverage.

This leaves them in an extremely vulnerable position. One semi-major illness and they could potentially lose house and home.

For those families who do lose their homes, after the initial stun of finding themselves homeless, will come the shock of learning that there are little or no resources available to help them get back on their feet.

Yes, there are homeless shelters that may have available beds for them. But actual resources to help them rebuild their lives: almost none. In some places: zero.

Although homelessness among families has been on a steady increase since the early 1980’s, shelter systems throughout the nation have not kept up with the changing homeless demographics. Despite the fact that families make up approximately 34 percent of America’s homeless population, homeless support services are still primarily aimed at single adult males. In some areas, local shelters do not even have the capacity to accommodate homeless families.

This begs the question: "Where are those families going to be sleeping tonight?"

What saddens me more than the lack of resources available to help them is how they may ultimately be treated by some within the community.

The stigmas, stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness are deeply ingrained in the minds of many. They will be unable to see these newly homeless as anything other than the "dregs of society." And, just a sure as milk sours, some fool of an idiot will invariably shout out in passing: "Get a job, you bum!"

But they’re not bums.

They are decent folks who have fallen victim to a failing economy. They’ve found themselves unemployed and without housing due to circumstances beyond their immediate control.

When they first become homeless, folks will have sympathy for them. Yet, should they find themselves homeless for an extended period of time fingers of accusation will be pointed. Others will automatically assume that they enjoy being homeless and unwilling to do anything to make their lives better.

No one will recognize that it’s the homeless shelter system which has failed; that it’s never really been equal to the task. Even those who are a part of the "system" will be unwilling to admit to their ineffectiveness.

For those who manage to rebuild their lives and escape homelessness, they will find that the lives they had before the experience is gone forever.

They will carry the scars of homelessness for the rest of their lives.

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