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Homeless And Starving In The Land Of The Free

US Homelessness and Poverty Rates Skyrocket While Billions are Spent Overseas on Occupation


By Jay Shaft
Coalition For Free Thought In Media 7/31/03

As I watch far away images of body bags being filled, I see much closer images of bodies. I went by a local park the other day and it looked like a concentration camp crossed with a mass murder scene.

There were people in rags and covered with filth lying scattered all over the place. At least twenty people were on crutches, had parts bandaged, or with open wounds not even covered. They were all hungry and a large majority were sick.

All around this city I live in, and nation-wide, the level of homelessness and poverty is growing alarmingly. From the last counts and estimates nation-wide, there has been at least a 35-45% increase in homelessness and poverty. The increases have come over the last two years with the biggest increases being in 2002 and especially in the first six months of 2003.

Add to that the barely subsisting or borderline homeless/poor, and we start to see a very alarming trend that shows no sign of going away. Over 30% of Americans are on the borderline of poverty. A lot just do not quite make the cut to receive food stamps or some kind of benefits and live on a razor edge of desperation and starvation.

I have talked to people that run food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Places like Day Star, Catholic Charities, St, Vincent De Paul, and many other major support agencies. They all tell me they have seen a vast increase in people that would starve or be without clothes if not for their services.

The most shocking sight to see is homeless and starving children, living right near some of the richest neighborhoods!!!!! Right here in "humanitarian" America, home of the worlds largest "humanitarian" and "liberating" force (or is it FARCE?).

This country is putting more and more of our citizens on the brink of homelessness and desperate poverty. In addition, it seems that we have pushed countless others over the brink and into the bottomless pit of despair and need. All you have to do is look around, open your eyes, and you will see the vast sea of hungry and destitute.

I have seen more and more children and families out on the street or in feeding centers and at food handouts. To think that the world’s richest country allows this to happen is sickening! To think that we turn a blind eye to starving children because it is easier to tolerate than do something about it!

We cannot afford to hire teachers, build new schools, or even maintain the ones we have. Our children slip farther into the void of illiteracy and neglect. We are the lowest among the industrialized "first" world nations in literacy scores! Many "third" world countries now have higher literacy rates than the U.S.

We are setting ourselves up to turn the world’s richest country into a third world quagmire. This country is sinking into a swamp of drowning poor and so-called "Economically Challenged!” The rich meanwhile buy bigger S.U.Vs (self indulgent ubiquitous vulture mobiles), and bigger gated houses to keep out the flotsam and detritus of the cast aways.

Homelessness Reaches New Levels

3.5 million people, 39% of them children, currently experience homelessness every year. 60% of all new homeless cases are single mothers with children.

Recent studies suggest that the United States generates homelessness at a much higher rate than previously thought. By its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. More important than actually knowing the precise number of people who experience homelessness is how to go about ending it.

A growing number of cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta, are criminalizing activities of the homeless, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. More than 60 cities are introducing measures to make it illegal to beg or sleep on the streets, to sit in a bus shelter for more than an hour, or to walk across a parking lot if the person doesn't have a car parked there.

In 2002 the US Conference of Mayors reported a 19% increase in shelter requests due to homelessness in 25 surveyed cities. Requests for shelter by families increased by 20%.

On average 30% of all requests for shelter went unmet in 2002, with 38% of requests by families going unmet. In 60% of the reporting cities, emergency shelters had to turn away families due to lack of resources, with 56% reporting they had to turn away other homeless people.

People are remaining homeless for at least 6 months on average with 82% of cities reporting an increase in the length of time people are homeless.

There has been a 40% increase in the Berkeley, California homeless population over the last two years. New York City has reported a 42% increase over the last two years, Boston a 37% increase, Los Angeles, CA a 47% increase, San Diego, CA 41%, Washington, D.C. 39%, Seattle, WA. 43%, Portland, OR 36%, Chicago, IL 47%, St. Louis, MO 34%, Atlanta, GA 40%, Tampa, FL 46%, St. Petersburg, Fl 45%, Miami, FL 49%, New Orleans, LA 41%, Phoenix, AZ a staggering 56%, with most other major cities reporting at least a 25-30% increase over the last two years.

41% of all homeless are single males, 41% families, 13% single females, and 5% being unaccompanied minors. The homeless population is estimated to be 50% African American, 35% white, 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, and 1% Asian.

An average of 23% suffer from mental illness, 38% suffer from substance abuse, 10% are veterans, and 22% are employed.

Over 40% of homeless persons are eligible for disability benefits, but only 11% actually receive them. Most are eligible for food stamps, but only 37% receive them. Most homeless families are eligible for welfare benefits, but only 52% receive them.

Published reports suggest that most homeless families with children are headed by single women between the ages of 26 and 30 who have never been married and have two children. According to one study, homeless women are significantly more likely to have low birth weight babies than are similar poor women who have housing.

Lack of affordable housing leads the list of causes for homelessness, with mental illness and lack of needed services, substance abuse, low paying jobs, domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, prison release, down turn in economy, limited life skills and cuts in public assistance being the other top reported causes.

The average wait for public housing was 19 months; the average wait for Section 8 certificates and vouchers was 21-23 months. 45% of cities have stopped taking public housing applications in at least one assisted housing program due to extensive waiting lists.

The other group sometimes considered homeless is the precariously housed population. People who are precariously housed are in danger of becoming literally homeless because they have no place of their own to live or their current housing situation is tenuous. This group includes, among others, people who are doubled up... those who are living for short periods of time with friends or relatives and thus lack a fixed, regular nighttime residence.

Children often appear among the precariously housed population because parents who become homeless may place their children with friends or relatives in order to avoid literal homelessness for them. Because some individuals and families choose to share housing as a regular, stable, and long-term arrangement, distinguishing the precariously housed from those in stable sharing arrangements is difficult.

President Bush claimed that his FY2004 budget "helps America meet its goals both at home and overseas." Yet, upon examination of the budget numbers, the goals of many Americans appear not to have been included.

At a time when unprecedented numbers of families and individuals are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, the President proposed no new resources to meet their needs. His budget maintains funding levels for most homeless assistance programs; levels so woefully inadequate that each year record numbers of people are turned away from life-sustaining services.

In releasing his FY2004 budget, President Bush claimed "human compassion cannot be summarized in dollars and cents." Neither, can the untold suffering of the 1.35 million children whose lives will be disrupted by loss of housing and health care this year, or the sorrow of their parents, who struggle against the odds to provide stability and hope, or the frustration and pain of those who work but cannot afford housing, or the fear of those whose health conditions, coupled with lack of housing, threaten their very survival.

In particular, the President's Medicaid proposal threatens to leave many more families and children uninsured, dramatically increasing their risk of becoming homeless due to illness or injury. Children are especially vulnerable to losing coverage under the proposed merging of Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Hunger and Starvation Increasing, Especially For Children

In 2001, the USDA reported that the number of Americans who were food insecure or hungry or at risk of hunger was 33.6 million. In the last year it is estimated that there has been an additional 5-10 million additional people who are now in jeopardy of hunger and starvation. The government has a benign description of this situation, calling the hungry and starving "Food Critical.”

The 2002 survey of 25 cities by the US Conference of Mayors recorded a 19% increase in the requests for emergency food has risen by 19% in 2002. 100% of the cities reported these increases. Requests for food by families increased by 17% while requests for food by the elderly increased by 19%.

48% of people requesting food were families with children. 38% were currently employed at the time of the request.

In 2002, 16% of all food requests went unmet due to lack of resources. 14% of families did not have their requests met adequately.

The leading reason for hunger was high housing costs, along with low paying jobs, unemployment and other employment related issues, economic downturn, medical and health costs, homelessness, poverty or lack of income, substance abuse, reduced public benefits, child care costs, mental health problems, and limited life skills being cited as the other leading causes of hunger.

I have talked to various groups doing feedings, both in fixed locations and out on the street. All the groups I talked to said they had experienced a 30-50% increase in the amount of people seeking food and nutritional resources.

According to America’s Second Harvest, a group dedicated to ending hunger and starvation, one in every four people in feeding lines are children. Over 9 million children are the recipients of food from a pantry, kitchen, or shelter within the network of America's Second Harvest.

A survey of America's Second Harvest affiliates in late 2001 and early 2002 found that 86% had seen an increase in requests for food assistance during the past year. I contacted them recently and they said the level of food requests has risen even more in 2002- mid 2003.

New York City's soup kitchens and food pantries fed 45% more people in 2002 than in 2000. In the one year following September 11, 73% of the agencies fed more children, with 39% saying the number of children they fed increased "greatly."

America's Second Harvest's Hunger in America 2001 report found that 23.3 million people sought and received emergency hunger relief from the network of charities in 2001. 23 million people receiving emergency food assistance is equivalent to the combined populations of the 10 largest U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, and Detroit.

According to some surveys and partial reports for the first six months of 2003, the figure is now over 40 million people in America that have to seek some form of daily feeding or nutritional supplementation

Poverty and Unemployment Growing at Alarming Rate

Between 2000 and 2001, poverty rose to 11.7% of the population, or 32.9 million people, up from 11.3% and 31.6 million. The poverty rate for 2002 was 13.9% equaling about 35.1 million Americans living in poverty with over 14 million of those being children. In 2003 the poverty rate is expected to average 14.2% or 35.8 million people. (US CENSUS BUREAU)

18% of American children, almost 15 million, live in poverty, meaning their parents' income is at or below the federal poverty level. This is about the same number of children who lived in poverty in 1980. 8% of America’s children, 6 million, live in extreme poverty. This is a 19% increase from 2000. The parents of these children make half the federal poverty level, or $8,980 for a family of four. 39% of American children, 28 million, live in low-income families. This is a 3% increase from 2000.

According to the newest figures released by the Labor Department on 7/3/03, 9.2 million people are now unemployed by adjusted figures and if you include the unemployed who are not receiving any assistance like unemployment compensation or Workman's Comp, the figure is 13.9 million.

Average unemployment rates in the past 2 years have risen: in 2001, the rate was 4.8%, but jumped to 5.7% in 2002, and to 6.5% in 2003. (US BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS)

57% of African American children are low-income (down 3% from 2000), 64% of Latino (up 7%), and 34% of white children (up 3%) are low-income.

As low-income families increase their earnings, they rapidly lose eligibility for assistance such as childcare subsidies and health benefits. It is not until a two-parent family of four reaches roughly $36,000 a year in income that parents can provide the basic necessities for their children. That’s double the federal poverty level.

68% of all workers receiving help under the Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation program have exhausted their unemployment benefits before finding another job.

A survey by National Employment Law Project, "Unemployed in America," conducted April 17-28, 2003 also found that more than half of all unemployed workers had cut back on spending on food and more than half had also postponed medical or dental care.

A January 2001 report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that 4.9 million low-income American households had worst case housing needs, paying more than 50% of their income on rent, while HUD estimates that this figure should be no more than 30%.

Following years of decline, participation in the food stamp program has been on the rise over the past two years. In December 2002, the last month for which data are available, 20.5 million people participated in the food stamp program. October 2002 was the first month since March 1998 in which the number of food stamp participants exceeded 20 million. Since its recent low point in July 2000, participation has increased by 3.6 million people, or 22 percent.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the current recession began in March 2001. Between that date and December 2002, food stamp participation increased by 3.3 million people, or 19 percent, nationally. Participation increased between March 2001 and December 2002 in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

More than 35 states have made cuts in programs funded with TANF and childcare block grant funds, and most of these cuts are in programs that promote the goals of welfare reform. The cuts reflect both the exhaustion of many states’ surplus TANF funds from prior years and the large budget gaps many states face.

With many single mothers losing their child care, they cannot find work or maintain adequate employment and are in extreme danger of losing their housing.

4 Billion a month to occupy Iraq, 1.9 billion to occupy Afghanistan

America is bleeding money into foreign occupation, while cutting back on the programs that provide a safety net for America's poorest citizens. The military budget is expected to top $450 million for the fiscal year 2004.

The costs of occupying and improving conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan are not even factored into the latest military expenditure proposals. The US is pledged to rebuilding Iraq's electrical and water infrastructure at estimated costs of $10 Billion for the electrical grid and $500 Million to rebuild the water system and supply clean water to the population of Iraq.

While the US is committed to at least two years of occupation in Iraq and possibly up to ten years, our own people slip into further poverty and starvation.

If the US spent just three months occupation costs, they could wipe out hunger and homelessness completely for ten years. However, it does not seem like feeding and sheltering our own citizens has a very high priority.

If the US took just 25% of their annual military budget, it could go a long way to wiping out hunger and homelessness around the world. Just 10% of our military budget spent yearly on America could give every high school graduate a college education for four years.

It seems like it is not a priority to protect our children from starvation and living on the streets. Our education system is crumbling and the school breakfast and lunch programs are being slashed mercilessly.

Increasingly in America, private foundations and organizations are stepping in to take up the slack that the government fails to adjust for. Most charities are reporting budget shortfalls due to the government cutting their funding and resources.

If this crisis continues, we are in danger of actually having worse hunger and homelessness than some third world countries. The military expansion and occupation must stop so that we can salvage our future before it is too late to stop the landslide of poor and starving.

We must put our priorities in line with the welfare of all our citizens. We cannot afford to neglect the children or any citizen any longer. There must be a call of reckoning to stop this depriving of anyone their basic needs to exist.

# # # # # #

FURTHER READING

The following websites were used to research this article. They contain a wealth of information on the current problems faced by America and the solutions that can be taken.

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/index.html
http://www.nlchp.org/
http://www.secondharvest.org/whoshungry/current_stats.html
http://www.urban.org/
http://www.nccp.org/ http://www.census.gov/
http://www.cbpp.org/index.html

*****************

- Jay Shaft, editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media - freethoughtinmedia@yahoo.com. Coalition For Free Thought In Media home: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia/

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