America’s Homeless: Still Waiting For Help

Posted: May 6, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Government, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Politics

There has been an increased of media coverage regarding homelessness across the nation.

For the most part, most headlines point to the rising numbers of homeless. In addition, they also highlight folks who do not fit the typical stereotypes. The people being written about are average everyday folks who have lost their jobs and homes due to the nation’s current economic woes.

Despite this, however, there are still many folks who believe that the majority of homeless persons have addiction disorders; are derelicts; too lazy to work; or are otherwise social misfits.  

A couple of days ago, the Homeless In L.A. blog, posted the U.S. "legal" definition of homelessness.

That definition comes from Title 42, Chapter 119, Sub-Chapter I, Section 11302 part of the U.S. Code; and is part of what is commonly referred to as the "McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act."

There are a number of words absent in the definition. Among them: drunkard; bum; derelict; drug addict; lazy; social leech; outcast; and so on.

There is a good reason why those words are omitted. Because those words do not reflect what a homeless person is. Those words reflect what folks erroneously believe the homeless to be. Besides, those words could be used to describe any number of non-homeless persons, as well.

By Federal definition, a homeless person is someone who lacks a fixed residence. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet, many are quick to pass judgment on a homeless person. They are so ready to attribute derogatory adjectives to one of their fellow citizens. And, all without knowing that person’s specific reasons for having become homeless.

There’s a word for that type of judgment: prejudice.

Over on Jacqueline Dowd’s blog, the 13th juror, she spotlighted a challenge: Never to judge a homeless person. Don’t make assumptions and jump to conclusions as to why the person is homeless.

She also offered a link to Shannon Moriarity’s blog, End Homelessness, where you could "digitally" sign a pledge to never judge a homeless person.

The combination of the Homeless In L.A. and the 13th juror posts started me thinking about "McKinney-Vento."

Originally enacted in July 1987, it remains the only "comprehensive" piece of legislation with regards to homeless. It was "strengthened and expanded" under the "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2002.

Section 11301 of McKinney-Vento outlines the reasons why legislators felt the need to create it.

Sub-section (a)(6) states:

"the Federal Government has a clear responsibility and an existing capacity to fulfill a more effective and responsible role to meet the basic human needs and to engender respect for the human dignity of the homeless."

I find particularly telling in that Congress determined that government does indeed have a "clear responsibility" to provide assistance to the nation’s homeless.

What I find sad, is that Congress has yet to fulfill that obligation. Moreover, they have done little or nothing of any actual significance to "… engender respect for the human dignity of the homeless."

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act continues to be grossly under-funded. Consequently, there will be millions of our fellow citizens who will suffer the indignities of homelessness this year.

They will come from all walks of life. They will encompass every age group; every ethnicity; every religious affiliation. They will be men, women and children. They will be someone’s family member; someone’s friend; someone’s co-worker.

What I also find saddening, is that there should be a need for legislation such as the McKinney-Vento Act in this country.

But perhaps saddest of all is that Congress had to pass legislation to force themselves to take action in addressing homelessness; that they had to create a law to compel themselves to do the right thing

However, what disturbs me the most is that despite McKinney-Vento, this nation’s homeless are still waiting for help…

… and, after 22 years, Congress is still dragging its feet.


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