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Homelessness – Are We Making Any Headway in Solving it?

Would you just pass him by? Would you just pass him by?

Visit virtually any city in the United States and you’ll find at least one homeless person - usually many more. Despite all our country’s advances, the number of homeless people continues to rise. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) explains two major trends responsible for its increase are the growing shortage of affordable rental housing and an increase in poverty. It’s difficult to accurately estimate how many people are actually homeless but the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states approximately 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the homeless population in the United States jumped approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009. As a result of the declining value and availability of public assistance, families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In a 2007 survey of 23 American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population.

Homelessness and poverty are tightly interwoven. In 2007, 12.5% of the U.S. population (more than 37 million people) lived in poverty. From 2008 to 2009, the number of unemployed persons increased by a staggering 59%. Low wages, unstable employment, and loss of benefits have left many families struggling to get medical care, food, and housing. Federal support for low-income housing has fallen in recent years, leading to substandard housing, overcrowding, and more families living on the street. For every 100 extremely low income renter households, there are only 37 affordable rental homes – meaning 60% of these households are fighting to find affordable housing.

So what is being done to reduce the homeless population and provide adequate housing? NCH has put forth several public policy recommendations and organized programs to help eradicate homelessness. The Bring America Home Act (BAHA) is the signature public policy element of NCH’s campaign and will soon be reintroduced to Congress. The legislation of BAHA outlines provisions for strengthening the National Housing Trust Fund, establishes a new rural rental housing assistance program, improves homeless persons’ access to Workforce Investment Act, and more.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created a $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program to help families who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to pay rent, utility bills, and cover other housing expenses. Programs organized by the National Alliance to End Homelessness get communities involved in local solutions, as well as continuing to petition the government for further assistance.

Veterans comprise one-fourth to one-fifth of the homeless population. Research indicates those serving in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era are at the greatest risk of homelessness, however veterans returning from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq often have disabilities that correlate with homelessness. In 2010, Secretary of the U.S Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), Eric Shinseki, pledged to reduce the number of homeless veterans from 131,000 in 2008 to 59,000 in 2012. The Administration’s proposed budget dramatically increased VA’s budget for homeless assistance programs, although many veterans still require supportive services to deal with their mental health disabilities.

One of the more interesting approaches to giving aid to veterans is found at Archi’s Acres, a small-scale organic farm utilizing innovative growing techniques to produce high-quality crops. Archi’s Acres is a pro-veteran company which created Veterans Sustainable Agricultural Training (VSAT) program to offer combat veterans meaningful employment opportunities. This unique program helps veterans to refocus their energy and adapt their skills for a smoother transition from war to life back home. One veteran reports he’s happy to be a nurturer now, not a destroyer. Organic farming allows these veterans a valuable way to continue serving their country by providing food security, while the farm itself provides a stable environment for the veterans to thrive.

In Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on January 25th, the President spoke positively about the future of the United States. Although he didn’t specifically mention homelessness, he assured his listeners that our country is “poised to do big things,” including solving unemployment and dealing with the veterans who returned from Iraq. With regard to the financial situation, Obama said, “We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future.” Americans can only hope his plans for prosperity include a solution to end homelessness.

As homelessness continues to increase, efforts to reduce its population need to be intensified. While the government takes its time to approve beneficial legislation like BAHA, individuals who are interested in giving their support can visit www.nationalhomeless.org and www.endhomelessness.org for details on how they can help.

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A moving dance spotlighting the issue of homelessness.
Last modified on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 18:45

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