Vol. 4    No. 14
July 9, 2009 Archives

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A Ballet of the Differently Abled
Kenyan Dance Troupe expresses
powerful message in their art
   The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released The 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment
Report to Congress yesterday in a conference call with Secretary Shaun Donovan. There was some good and bad
news in the report. First the good news. The number of homeless individuals in homeless shelters in 2008
remained relatively constant from 2007. And on any given night, it is estimated that 664,000 people are in a
homeless shelter, which is actually down 7,500 people from the previous year.
   That’s the good news, now the bad. While the number of homeless individuals remained stable, the number of
homeless families increased by nine percent to 516,000, a clear indicator, in my view, that the housing crisis is
kicking people out of their homes at an increasing rate. This is further evidenced by the fact that while
homelessness is predominantly an urban phenomenon with 20 percent living in Los Angeles, New York and
Detroit, it is increasingly becoming a rural and suburban phenomenon. According to the HUD report, the percent of
the homeless accessing rural and suburban homeless shelters rose from 23 to 32 percent of the total in just one
year.
   And the report states “There were early signs that the economic crisis may be affecting trends in homelessness
nationally. Notably, a greater share of people accessing the homeless system in 2008 came from stays with friends
and family and from places where they had lived a year or more, suggesting that people who had been stably
housed were becoming homeless after exhausting their housing options.”
This could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of measuring the actual number of people who are homeless and the
severity of the housing crisis and the depths of the recession. For instance, while the number of individuals being
sheltered remained stable, was this due to an overall stabilization of the actual number of individuals who are
homeless or does it reflect an unavailability of space for individuals. Were the shelters maxed out before an even
larger number of people became homeless? Was some of the shelter capacity for individuals converted to family
shelters because those numbers were on the rise?
   And I remember the vivid images of tent cities being created in some warmer Western climes as people were
forced out of their homes. I’m sure that these statistics do not count the residents of these growing “tent cities.”
It is no surprise that suburbs and rural areas are experiencing an increase in demand for shelter by the homeless.
Was it only yesterday that our television screens were filled with block after block of homes with for sale signs on
the front lawn because the families had been foreclosed upon and evicted? Where have these people gone? You
can only stay so long with family or friends after you’ve been evicted before you somebody gets on somebody’s last
nerve and someone has got to go. There may be a larger segment of homeless people who are close to being
evicted from the homes of friends and family and will be moving out onto the street.
   Back in February, there sure was a lot of hoopla about the major banks receiving billions in federal funds, yet
they weren’t making the loans to stave off the foreclosure on the homes of many middle class Americans. Are they
making the loans now? Is the number of people who are getting foreclosed on decreasing, remaining the same or
increasing?
   It just doesn’t seem right to have blocks of decent vacant houses on the one hand and hundreds of thousands of
families crammed into homeless shelters on the other hand. Clearly the present system is not meeting the needs of
many middle class families that have been hit hard by the recession. With the economic changes that we are
currently experiencing, I wouldn’t be surprised if this problem doesn’t keep growing because some jobs just aren’t
going to come back after the recession is over and it will take time for people to adjust to and prepare for the new
green and techno-centered jobs of the new economy.
   In the mean time, clearly we can do better than this. We’re awfully good at building houses. We’re just not very
good at keeping enough families in them.
   And by the way, did I mention that the homeless problem has a disparate impact on the African American
community. In 2008, 41.17 percent of the homeless who stayed in a shelter were African American, a percent 3.5
times higher than the percent of African Americans in the U.S. population. We know who makes up the greatest
percentage of the homeless in Los Angeles, New York and Detroit. This isn’t just about homelessness, it’s about
urban decline and I hope the Obama administration will be able to do something about it.
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                Middle class homelessness