Friday, 1 March 2013

America's Homeless

Susan Brannon
28 February 2013

Being homeless is described as a person who has a lack of a fixed regular and adequate night time residence. A homeless person sleeps in cars, in storage units, in motels, in tent cities, parks, foreclosed homes and in the streets.  They sleep in the rain, the snow, the cold and hot weather.  But their sleep is not "real" sleep because it is often interrupted by the local police asking them to wake up and move along.  Their sleep is light because a part of them always needs to be aware of what is going on around them to try to keep their belongings safe.

Normally we do not hear or read about the homeless unless it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, yet they exist all year round and the numbers are growing by alarming rates because of the recession that is never ending.  In every city across America the shelters remain full every and there is a waiting list.  Shelters run in various ways, some have maximum of three nights per stay, some only one night.  There are a few long term shelters to help get people back on their feet, find a job and housing, but there are long lists.  Some shelters are for families, but they are few.  Most shelters house men apart from women so married couples cannot stay together, this is done for their own safety.  Women shelters first take the women with children and if there is any room left, then the single women can join.

They have all that they own in backpacks and the average weight is around 35 pounds.  They must keep their belongings with them most of the time, on their backs or on the ground near their side and it is smart to keep an eye on the bag at all times.  When they have to go to the bathroom, they have the bag, when they sleep they have the bag, when they eat, they have the bag and when they shower they have the bag.  The big question is, "Where am I going to pee?" To yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest.  There are not enough public bathrooms in most American cities.

It is illegal in America to be homeless or live outdoors. The city businessmen decided that they were highly offended by stepping over someone sleeping in the streets and many cities imposed no sitting or laying down laws that increased arrests. When it is cold outside, where is a homeless person supposed to go to remain warm and lesson the risk of actually freezing to death?  Many try to enter into museums, where they are asked to leave, or spend time in the library until it closes.

About 3.5 million Americans are homeless and about 1.5 million of them are children, the highest rate in the industrialized world. The number is rising do to the increase in the cost of living and loss of sustainable jobs.  23 percent of the homeless are chronically homeless, meaning an unaccompanied homeless with a disabling condition or continuously homeless for a year or more.  42% of the homeless are not sheltered.  However, it is quite difficult to actually count all the homeless because they must be mobile and move around from place to place, area to area and park to park.

Being a Vet and serving America does not help, about 40% of the homeless men are vets and there is no end in sight and minimal assistance.  These are both young and old, new vets and Vietnam vets who risked their life's and came back without much assistance.

The problem is that most of the American middle and upper class does not have any contact with the homeless and thus, they lack the understanding of their culture.  No, they are not all drug addicts, violent, criminals or mentally ill.  Yes, some of them are, but not most of them.  There are many reasons that a person or family can become homeless and most of them are homeless for a short period in their lives.

In America, we have a affordable housing shortage.  At this point and time, 30.8 million people in America are paying over 50% of their income in housing.  Most people need a two or three income wage in order to maintain paying the housing bills.   To make things worse, prices continue to go up while the wages earned is actually going down.  Most of the jobs created today are retail part-time jobs that pay at each states minimum wage without any medical benefits.  We stopped being a nation of manufacturing and became a nation of virtual money, that left the working class to carve out a livelihood at Wal-Mart.

Around 20 years ago, the average cost for a gallon of gas was 99 cents, the average price for a gallon of milk was 99 cents, the average minimum wage was $4.50 per hour.  Today, the average price for a gallon of gas in 3.89, the average gallon of milk is 3,89 that is almost 4 times the amount than before. The current minimum wage is $7.25 and in order to maintain the standard of living that we had 20 years ago it should now be around $16.00 per hour.  As a result, American's are now trying to sustain their living conditions at more than 1/2 less than it should be.  This is why two average wage earners is not enough in one household.

After the recession began, the amount of homeless families has increased by 9% and most report that this happened because of a job loss, followed by lack of affordable housing, and by low paying wages.There is no city or county anywhere in the United States where a worker making the minimum wage can afford a fair market rate one-bedroom apartment.

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