A recent report (2009) indicated that there are currently 40,000 homeless in New York City. This is a staggering statistic – this number is equivalent to the entire population of a small town. Given the harsh winters in New York, this is a very disturbing reality. New York is by no means unique in this regard. The following table shows homelessness statistics for the entire nation as of 2009.
In addition, there are many millions of individuals at a greater risk for homelessness as the following table indicates
Note – These data are taken from the National Report on Homelessness from the National Alliance to End Homelessness
These data clearly demonstrate that the major causes for homelessness are the prohibitive cost of housing, unemployment and poverty - conditions that are further aggravated by housing foreclosures.
Despite the economic downturn, a decrease by 1% in homelessness across America between 2009 and 2011 was found in a report issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The following were some of the findings issued in this report –
- "The nation's homeless population decreased 1 percent, or by about 7,000 people; it went from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011. There were a decreased number of people experiencing homelessness in most of the subpopulations examined in this report: families, individuals in families, chronic, and individuals. The only increase was among those unsheltered.
- The largest decrease was among homeless veterans, whose population declined 11 percent. The number of homeless veterans went from 75,609 in 2009 to 67,495 in 2011, a reduction of about 8,000.
- The national rate of homelessness was 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population. The rate for veterans was 31 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population.
- Chronic homelessness decreased by 3 percent from 110,911 in 2009 to 107,148 in 2011. The chronically homeless population has decreased by 13 percent since 2007. The decrease is associated with an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing beds from 188,636 in 2007 to 266,968 in 2011. Permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness.
- A majority of homeless people counted were in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, but nearly 4 in 10 were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation. The unsheltered population increased by 2 percent from 239,759 in 2009 to 243,701 in 2011, the only subpopulation to increase.
- The number of individuals in homeless families decreased by 1 percent nationally, but increased by 20 percent or more in 11 states.
- · While the homeless population decreased nationally, it increased in 24 states and the District of Columbia."
Note – I have purposefully underlined those aspects of the report that I believe warrant special attention.
The horrific state of homelessness impacts men, women, children, the old and the young, the mentally ill and even the handicapped. There are, in fact, whole families that are homeless. It is not uncommon for families to be homeless in which the head of the household is employed. In my mind, there is no justifiable reason for anyone to be homeless in America; the suffering that is endured by so many is wholly unnecessary. Consider the extent of the waste evident in the federal budget especially in regards to military expenditures and the ludicrous concessions made to corporations with the help of the legions of lobbyists paid exorbitant sums to extricate concessions from an essentially apathetic and pliant Congress. Consider the vast transfer of public wealth to private hands that has transpired within the last thirty years. Consider the corruption that is so evident within local governments. These are governments that often pander to wealth and find all manner of rationales to ignore the plight of so many of their citizens.
National priorities should gravitate around meaningful solutions to societal problems and conditions that lead to unwarranted and unnecessary suffering on the part of those who are effectively economically and politically powerless to change their state of being - with special regard to children. Homelessness and hunger are issues that need to be placed at the top of the list. Not to do so, is, in my judgment, morally indefensible.
The state of homelessness in America is evidence of the seemingly pervasive cultural indifference to the living conditions of those less fortunate. This is a troubling aspect of American life. It need not be the case, however. This nation is woefully out of balance. What is required is a sense of urgency in meeting the needs of those who are in crisis. What is required is a serious reevaluation of what we, as a people, collectively regards as important and worthy of immediate attention. In my mind, to ignore those who suffer unnecessarily is to effectively undermine the future.