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Crisis: Homelessness Population Grows, Tent Cities Thrive

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 03/30/2009 - 11:31am

As the Congress tries to throw more "good money after bad money" in a series of bogus corporate bail-outs, America is filling up with more families with children who have lost their jobs and homes.

They have no options in sight. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, there is a great increase for housing aid, especially for families, in every region of the country, due to the spike in job losses, foreclosures, and returning disabled veterans.

The crushing economic pressures are straining the emergency state and municipal budgets of every state, most notably in cities like Atlanta, Boston, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Denver, and Washington.

Rising food, fuel, and transit costs batter families, who are stretched to their financial limit, and now they are wondering whether they can juggle the rent with their essentials of food and health care. Recent official counts now show more than 1.5 million people are living on U.S. streets or in shelters. Some analysts place the number of homeless Americans at 3.5 million, with 1.4 million being children.

Those statistics on the most vulnerable of our citizens are chilling, dismal numbers. As a report released last week by the National Center on Family Homelessness, found that 1 in 50 children are homeless in America today and many of the states, who are showing reservations in accepting stimulus money, have chosen political ideology over the dire needs of their citizens and their young. Let’s name a few of the states: Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

There is a racial component to this surge of homelessness. The children of African Americans and Native Americans have fared the worst in this grim economic downturn and are disproportionately represented.

A look into the data indicates how much these communities will be negatively impacted. Over 42 percent of homeless children are younger than age six, the center’s report says. It adds that nearly 1.16 million of homeless children today will not graduate from high school due to this major recession.
"The consequences to our society will play out for decades," Ellen Bassuk, president of the center, says. "Homeless children have poor health, emotional problems and low graduation rates. As we bail out the rest of our nation, it is also time to come to their aid."

National media have discovered Sacramento’s "Tent City," as well as those going up in the Midwest, South and Northwest. Estimates of the total number of homeless living in these modern "Hoovervilles" put it at 15,000 to 20,000.

Last year, 3.2 million foreclosures were filed across the nation, forcing a majority of homeowners to live in their cars or bunking with relatives before giving up and living in shelters, sleeping under bridges and in makeshift camps in the woods.

The roots of American homelessness go far back into our political history. Over two decades ago, President Reagan, the Great Communicator, took apart the federal housing program and cut funds for public housing. He then shifted funds away from a federal low income housing agenda and subsidized programs to a tax credit plan which boxed out the poorest citizens.

Another Republican chief executive, George W. Bush also slashed away at the federal public housing budget and reduced the homeless services budget. Since 2004, he further cut the funding for affordable housing programs by $2.2 billion.

What will America do to meet this critical homelessness crisis? Although the Congress acknowledges this is "the longest period of sustained mass homelessness since the Great Depression," legislation and federal funds have been slow to meet the challenge.

The Republicans have proved the major stumbling block in passing a $45 billion proposal to relieve a sizeable amount of homelessness—and another $15 billion plan to expand aid for foreclosure victims and to provide an emergency fund for homelessness.

With the major political parties jockeying for power and advantage, many more citizens will slip through the cracks and lapse into bottomless homelessness.

It’s time to keep up the pressure on the local and national politicians to represent our interest and the interest of those who are disenfranchised and hopeless. It’s time to make notes on those who are collecting graft and remain silent on the big issues.