Report Finds Homelessness Rising Across The U.S.
Report Finds Homelessness Rising Across the U.S.
Interview with Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
"It generally takes a year to two years before you exhaust all your resources -- family, friends, etc. -- and so it takes a couple years for that to happen, so we have not seen folks who have had their homes foreclosed on yet winding up at our shelters." -- Michael Stoops
The U.S. Conference of Mayors just released its annual study of hunger and homelessness, and both are on the rise. In 2007, on any given night, 750,000 people are homeless in America, and 40 percent of the homeless are families. Forty-four percent are unsheltered, meaning they're living on the street or in their cars. And the number of violent attacks on homeless people is increasing.
The report found that the rising cost of housing and a shortage of affordable housing is a major cause of homelessness in families with children as well as increasing rates of hunger. The survey also noted that the recent rise in home foreclosures, the increased cost of living in general and the increased cost of food in particular as major causes of hunger in America.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. He discusses increasingly punitive measures taken by some cities and towns to disperse their homeless population, the contradictory record of the Bush administration on the issue, and the possible impact of the sub-prime mortgage crisis on homelessness in the U.S.
MICHAEL STOOPS: We see the numbers rising. Some cities are saying that the chronic homeless population is declining, but what we feel is really happening is cities are pushing homeless out of their downtown areas, because homelessness and tourism and economic development don't necessarily go hand in hand.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What evidence do you have for that concern?
MICHAEL STOOPS: (At) the National Coalition for the Homeless, we track what we call criminalization of the homeless -- making it illegal to beg, to camp, to sit, and we see that more and more cities are passing and enforcing such laws. And we also have seen an increase in violence against homeless people done by teenagers and young adults. So those two things are happening, and the latest trend that we've been able to come up with and monitor is that many cities are now going after the so-called good Samaritans that are feeding homeless people in public places. Orlando and Las Vegas have passed laws making it illegal to feed the homeless without getting a permit. The Orlando law, if you want to feed within three miles of city hall, which is in the downtown area. You have to apply for a permit, you have to pay for the permit, and you can only get a permit two times a year, as if homeless people are only hungry two times a year, or they assume there must be a hundred churches and synagogues feeding homeless people, and that's simply not the case.
BETWEEN THE LINES: How have programs for the homeless fared under the Bush administration?
MICHAEL STOOPS: A couple good things about the Bush administration. It has encouraged cities around the country who have been absent partners in this business of trying to help homeless people -- they've asked and they got almost 200 cities to develop 10-year plans to end homelessness. So there's more cohesion and people working together. The other thing about the Bush administration -- for the first time, we hear city officials talking about ending homelessness and trying to end it within a 10-year period of time. However, talk is cheap and developing plans are great. Congress has increased federal funding for homeless programs. Today it's about $1.6 billion, and there's going to a several hundred million dollar increase next year. But while giving more money to emergency services, the Bush administration is cutting important entitlement programs -- housing, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare. So while they talk about ending homelessness, they're actually creating more of it by cutting out important income support programs.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Michael Stoops, (the Housing Authority of New Orleans) has been in the news recently because it wants to tear down old housing projects with 4,500 units and build mixed income developments. Those can be a big improvement for the people who get to live there, but don't the poor lose out when that happens?
MICHAEL STOOPS: Many of the public housing projects that are being torn down by cities and the federal government were built in the '40s and '50s, and they have provided people with affordable, hopefully decent and safe, housing. We're all in favor of mixed income developments, but we also feel that if you're going to tear down some of the housing projects that might need to be torn down, there needs to be an immediate one-to-one replacement, because we can't afford to lose housing units, and those folks have no place to go, and they will literally -- like they have been in New Orleans -- wind up on the streets, not even in shelters, because the shelters are full in this country. So it does cause homelessness for the masses, so we must not let cities get away with not replacing all of the units that they're tearing down.
BETWEEN THE LINES: In a Gallup poll done around Thanksgiving, people were asked about housing-related concerns in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Can you talk about that?
MICHAEL STOOPS: Twenty-eight percent of the people surveyed worried that they too could become homeless. So I think a lot of people going through economic crises are worried. However, people don't suddenly become homeless overnight. It generally takes a year to two years before you exhaust all your resources -- family, friends, etc. -- and so it takes a couple years for that to happen, so we have not seen folks who have had their homes foreclosed on yet winding up at our shelters. However, they will be there, if our government doesn't intervene to keep those folks in their homes.
* Listen to this interview in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/stoops122807.ram
* Visit the National Coalition for the Homeless website at www.nationalhomeless.org.
* Related links:
"US cities struggle to help the hungry, homeless: report," --USA Today, Dec. 16, 2007
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Dec. 28, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.