In a nation where we toss around the title ‘billionaire’ as an accepted example of our nation’s wealth, there is no excuse for the existence of one, single homeless person. The most damning statistic is the increasing number of homeless families and veterans; and that is America’s shame.
Many of the homeless in our largest cities are single mothers and their children. For an increasing number, it is not a temporary situation. One New York mother tells of living in a family shelter for the last three-and-one-half years. When she’s out looking for work, there is an after school program at the shelter for her daughter. In the past the mother found jobs through temporary agencies; now they only hire for vacations and pregnancy leaves; no longer does a temp position result in fulltime employment. The shelter they live in has about 225 families consisting of 375 children. New York has more than 150 family shelters. The number of homeless families has more than doubled over the past 20 years.
She has finally found work, and with the assistance of a charitable organization, she and her daughter are now living in an affordable apartment.
New York has one of largest homeless population in the nation. Every night approximately 12,000 families are in the shelters, including another 24,000 children.
A study completed in November 2014 revealed that the number of homeless children in America has risen to 2.5 million. The recession in 2008 combined with a large number of foreclosures caused the numbers to drastically increase. The rising cost of apartments in cities such as New York have prevented those in the poverty level from obtaining a secure and permanent place to live.
There was one positive story about a woman who has a four-year-old son. She recently found work and is hopeful. Through the assistance of the shelter she received therapy which helped her find a job. She became homeless as a result of domestic violence resulting in mental instability.
The homeless population consists of 12 percent who are former military. Approximately 92 percent are men and live in urban areas. They are homeless because of mental problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and disorders which reoccur because of PTSD. Although they are a small percentage of the overall veteran population, black and Hispanic men comprise 40 percent of homeless veterans.
Why do veterans become homeless? The causes are many. The most frequent reasons are inability to find work after their military service has ended; many are unable to fit into a civilian society, and because of mental problems, primarily PTSD, and/or drug and alcohol problems end up divorced, and are unable to find affordable housing for themselves.
Returning American military frequently find that the training they received in the military has no value in America’s work force. A lack of sufficient services to re-train veterans and assist them with problems of meshing with the rest of society makes them feel like outcasts.
Groups such as ‘Veterans helping Veterans’ have become necessary for veterans returning from war zones. Recently a provision of the one-trillion-dollar armed services budget included cuts to benefits and aid for Americans veterans.
There is no excuse for a single person living in a homeless situation in America. The wealthy give donations to charities for two reasons; tax relief, and reputation, but almost nothing to veteran’s groups. Our government is quick to spend money on wars and foreign aid, but seldom considers the people living within our own nation.
It is America’s shame that we have such enormous wealth in one nation and extreme poverty at the other end. What is more shameful is that profits for our richest companies have become more of a priority than the people of our nation.
Interviews with homeless individuals increase the hopelessness of their condition. They believe most people see them as dirty, lazy, drug addicts, or merely mentally ill; and sadly some of them are. The majority do not fit into these categories. Most have experienced devastating financial loss, and have no way to remedy their condition.
A statement to our leaders in Washington: ‘Keep our money at home. The people you are expected to represent need help. Not a single dollar should leave America until homelessness, poverty, and inadequate health care are eradicated. It’s your responsibility to care for the people of the nation who have allowed you to live such comfortable lives. Tell the lobbyists ‘no,’ and do the right thing.’
By James Turnage