Most of the southern part of the U.S. is experiencing extreme drought conditions.

Being hit the hardest are three of the top four most populous states: California, Texas and Florida.

According to an article in USA Today, Record dry start to 2009 worries, farmers, firefighters,

"The first two months of 2009 are the driest start of any year since the USA began keeping records over a century ago, leading to severe drought in Texas, dipping reservoir levels in Florida and a surge in wildfires across the nation."

Not exactly the rosiest way to start the year is it?  

In California,

"As many as 95,000 agricultural jobs and up to $3 billion in earnings are expected to be lost in 2009, devastating rural communities throughout California, the nation’s No. 1 farm state."

And in Texas,

"Agriculture officials said Friday that ranchers in the nation’s largest cattle-producing state have already lost nearly $1 billion because of Texas’ ongoing drought."

A couple of times over the weekend, as I checked the Weather Channel for local conditions, they kept mentioning the drought. The word stuck in my mind. Drought.

Last night as I went to sleep, the word was still rolling around in my grey matter. Then suddenly it popped into my thoughts that there was another type of drought occurring throughout the nation. This one, however, had to do with people.

Generally, the drought is used to mean a "dry spell."

When applied to weather, it means a lack of precipitation. When applied to a sports team, it means a losing streak.

When it comes to how many folks perceive our nation’s homeless, there is definitely a drought of information.

The current economic turmoil has caused an increase in homelessness in our nation. This in turn, has sparked a higher than usual number of news articles about it. Despite this however, there is still quite a lack of clear understanding of the condition. And, unfortunately, many folks continue to view homelessness through the eyes of the old stereotypes.

By far, the biggest misconception of the homeless is that they are all lazy social malcontents who prefer a drunken lifestyle to being members of the community. In all reality, those who most closely resemble the stereotype represent only about 10 to 15 percent of the entire homeless population.

That most folks have yet to come to terms with that reality is a clear indication that there is a huge "drought" of public awareness.

Currently there are about 450 cities across the nation which have adopted 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness. Yet, most folks do not understand what these plans entail. Consequently, when the housing units for these plans are proposed, they are being met with sharp opposition. Members of the local community voice their concerns at having a "homeless shelter" built in their area, not realizing that these types of units are not shelters – they are actual "apartments."

Even in those communities which understand the difference, people don’t want them built in their neighborhoods because they know that each unit will house a chronically homeless person who has either a substance abuse problem or who suffers from some form of mental or emotional disability.

In my opinion, these 10-year plans suffer two major shortcomings.

First, local governments – for the most part – have not engaged in active campaigns to educate the community about homelessness. Second, by addressing chronic homelessness exclusively, it spotlights only those homeless who resemble the stereotype.

If local leaders expect to get public support for their community’s 10-year plans, then they will need to rectify those shortcomings.

The drought in the southern part of the nation will ultimately be measured in dollars and cents.

The drought of public awareness – as it pertains to homelessness – will sadly be measured in human suffering.

  1. anamerican says:

    As always ,you bring real insight to the issue of homelessness. The demographics of our homeless citizens becomes more diverse during these times of economic hardship.

    “Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning”

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