Fighting Homelessness – What can YOU do?

HomelessnessThis week, I have seen so many posts about how we should take care of all our own homeless before taking in any Syrian refugees. I can’t help but think that if we, as a nation, are so deeply concerned about our own homeless, why is the problem so pervasive?  Estimates are that on any given night 600,000 people in America experience homelessness.  It is not always a permanent condition.  There a So many people are living on the edge that they become homeless when they cannot pay the rent – until they find other accommodations with family or friends.  Others are victims of domestic violence that need to leave their homes and are temporarily homeless until they can get connected with services to help them find a new, safe home.  Approximately 85,000 of the homeless are experiencing chronic long-term homelessness.

So if we truly wanted to help these people, what would it take?  Let’s say that out of the 350 million people in this country, 200 million are deeply concerned.  If those 200 million were to give $10 / month to organizations that help people out of homelessness, that would be $40,000/year for every single person experiencing even temporary homelessness. I’d say that would address the problem.

But let’s assume that the people saying we should take care of the homeless believe the government, not private citizens, should be eradicating homelessness.  That would mean that the government would need to provide sufficient services for all the the Americans who do not earn a wage that can sustain a basic life.  Which is pretty much anyone earning minimum wage (or less) who does not live with their parents.  That’s about 3 million people.  Estimates are that 1 in 6 people live on incomes that put them at risk for homelessness.

There are many more who wind up homeless because they suffer from mental illness and cannot maintain a stable life, including veterans suffering from PTSD. This is approximately 18% of the homeless.

In addition, estimates are that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGTB, having run away from or gotten kicked out of their homes because of their orientation.

So it means we would need to support our Federal and Local Government in providing the following to all citizens who need it:

  1. Free or affordable health care. Many people wind up homeless after a serious medical issue that hits them with huge bills and loss of their job.
  2. Subsidized or low-cost housing in all communities.
  3. Rental Assistance Funds – for those who are at risk of becoming homeless as they get behind on rent after a job loss.
  4. Food – Food Banks, Food Stamps, Free Lunches for children.
  5. Disability subsidies for those who will suffer from short term or permanent disability that prevents them from working.
  6. Assistance for those who just need a hand to get back on their feet. Whether that is job retraining, unemployment compensation, subsidies until they can get a job, etc.
  7. Raise the minimum wage
  8. More funding for mental health facilities and services.

How many people who say we should eradicate homelessness would support all the programs necessary to eradicate homelessness, even if it means raising our taxes and having subsidized housing in every community?

For those who are thinking, yes, I want us to take care of our own, I just don’t know what I can do – here are some options.

  • Advocate – write to your government Representatives and ask for the changes you want to see.  Posting it on Facebook does not get it to anyone who will enact change.

On Monday, Nov. 2, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law, making $33 billion available for non-defense discretionary programs in fiscal year (FY) 2016. This funding has already been divided among the appropriations subcommittees, but the allocations have yet to be made public. Right now, committee staff are hard at work negotiating competing demands to produce a final bill to set spending levels for federal programs.

So why is your voice important? In light of the recent budget deal, this is the biggest opportunity for Congress to fight homelessness since the HEARTH Act passed six years ago. A $345 million increase for Homeless Assistance Grants represents only 1 percent of the $33 billion newly available in FY 2016. This 1 percent would provide enough funding to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2017.Congress has until Dec. 11 to finish the spending bill, but many decisions on the details will be made much earlier.

What can you do? Call your members of Congress ASAP by dialing the Congressional switchboard at 877-210-5351 and follow up in the weeks to come! You can also write a letter. We’ve made that easy for you with these letter templates. It’s crucial that homeless advocates unify on this message and beat the drum as loud and for as long as it takes for Congress to pass a final omnibus bill.What should you tell Congress? Here are three key messages:

Do not raid the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) to fund other programs.

Provide $18.05 billion to renew all Housing Choice Vouchers in use at the end of 2015 and $470 million to restore the remaining 60,000 vouchers lost due to sequestration.

Provide $2.480 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program, including $40 million for homeless youth initiatives.

This cause is dear to my heart so I do help my client re purpose their furniture and household goods when the time comes.  If you need help, just ask me!

There is so much each of us can do to end homelessness.  If each of us did even one thing to help, together we could end homelessness and still have room in our country and hearts for the  “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the homeless and the tempest-tossed”