Homelessness has increased 1.6% nationally over the past year, and the number of destitute humans in major United States cities is on the rise. In a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (weird name, but they’re a non-partisan group) it was found that homeless shelters and food pantries in 22 big cities are struggling to keep up with the current demand from those who have nothing while some have it all.
Seattle and Los Angeles in particular have seen sharp increases, while our nation’s capital has seen a 28% increase in the individual homelessness that our lawmakers must walk by each day on their way to wreck things. That’s not the only shocking stat – the city of D.C. has also seen a 60% rise in the number of families on the streets. Children, which the lawmakers must, again, walk right by with their Starbucks cups and suits at the ready to defend the needs of the people (that’s what they’re doing, right?).
What are the biggest factors in homelessness? City officials cite lack of affordable housing and – please hear this – low wages. There is no redeemable argument for the current wage which is minimum standard for most of the U.S. $7.25 can barely keep a teenager in gas money and food these days, to say nothing of condoms, clothing and maybe some savings or pot or whatever. So how’s a grown adult supposed to pile insurance, student loans utility bills and unaffordable housing on top of the aforementioned and not wind up down and out?
It is LUDICROUS to expect this, and even stupider to that we’d fall for lies of weak justification such as “We’ll lose jobs” (no, we won’t, and haven’t in places which have enacted the minimum wage increases) and “It’ll hurt business.” Another short-sighted fallacy.
You know, I’m no fan of Xmas. I think it brings out the religious crazies and false goodwill that would be better served in our hearts at all times of the year when it can stand to do something useful in the long-term. However, that spark of helpfulness and even selflessness some experience at this consumer holiday are moments which can fan into flame. A social restructure is needed to even out the wealth. It’s bullshit city when hardworking folks can starve in the streets with their children beside them, watching and freezing and shutting down their spirits to a howling, bitter wind. There is NO RULE which says this has to happen. It’s merely what we’ve collectively allowed thus far.
Also of note is the national food stamp budget which has declined dramatically over the past few years; 2013 saw an across-the-board $5 million slash to the little bit of help low-income people need. Food stamps were all that got me through some terrible times. Resourceful as I am, this reporter needed them badly. And this reporter does not even have children to think about, or ailing relatives.
One shining star in the U.S. Conference of Mayors report: the city of San Francisco saw a 15% drop in homelessness. San Francisco has a very successful initiative called the Navigation Center, which provides temporary housing and helps the homeless with long term solutions. This sounds like standard-issue fare for homeless centers across the nation; what is San Francisco doing differently? To start, Navigation Center is a one-stop complex for the city’s homeless. They received $3 million from an anonymous donor to create concrete sides to their vision which included the novel idea that the homeless do better when supported with their possessions, partners and pets they had on the street. You know, the stuff that matters to them in a hostile world. The Center targets the entrenched homeless population, the ones that suffer from mental illness including substance abuse and who have been on the streets a long time. Homeless guests can have a place to sleep and safe place for their stuff while the staff works to find stable housing, rehab, employment and long term counseling. No other city has taken such an approach to help those experiencing homelessness and many cities will surely want to follow San Francisco’s lead.
Also of note, those who stay at the Navigation Center speak of being treated nicely. Treated like humans. Treated like adults. They are able to come and go as they please at the Center; no one is locked in or has to go to the back of the line such as is the case with traditional shelters. There are kennels for pets and partnerships with the city for services like needle exchanges, pet vaccinations, family reunification and public defenders. No more than 75 people are taken in for assistance at a time, thus eliminating the possibility for overcrowding. What Navigation Center is doing is very beautiful, paradigm-shifting work on something that would never be a problem in a healthy society.
Tonight in this reporter’s area of North Carolina, it’s unseasonably warm, near 70 degrees. The homeless are not freezing for once in the winter, and it happens to be Xmas Eve. But what will happen to those experiencing homelessness once freezing weather sets back in? What will happen to the children in D.C. who will freeze alongside their parents while hope is lost and the endless shelter cycle continues? With places like San Francisco creating templates for hope, maybe the answers to those questions won’t be tragic.