Notes on Homelessness
Editor’s Note: I received this information from a homeless woman named Bobbie. It reminds us of why the GMP is so important and why the budget reductions of help to those suffering from poverty is such an immoral reality.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” –Mohandas Gandhi
NEED VS SUPPLY
•In 1978, HUD’s budget was over $83 billion.
•In 1983, HUD’s budget was only $18 billion.
• In the last several years, HUD has been tearing down thousands of low-income units across the country.
• From 1996 on, HUD has spent $0 on building low-income housing while thousands of units have been demolished.
• After Katrina, 4,000 low-income units were destroyed in New Orleans, although they could have been made habitable. None of these lost units was replaced.
• In Chicago, the Housing Authority demolished 3,300 units of public housing and planned to replace it with only 1,800 units, a loss of 1,500 units.
• Over the past ten years, Atlanta has spent almost $15 million to bulldoze 15,000 units of public housing.
Lack of housing
• There are 9 million households in need of low-income housing. There are 6 million available units.
• During the negotiations to demolish the former New Orleans St. Thomas Housing Project in 2002, developers started out promising that 50% of the units would be affordable. But in the end only 9% were affordable one study showed.
• As of January 2006, The Housing Authority of Colorado Springs has approximately 6,000 families on the Section Eight Rental Housing Assistance Voucher waiting list. Families who applied in October of 2002 are currently being served. Colorado State Housing Board, ’07.
• In Atlanta in August of 2010, the housing authority severely underestimated the number of people who would show up to apply for Section 8 housing. When 30,000 applicants arrived, some who had been waiting in line for 2 days, the office was unable to handle the response, and 62 people were injured.There are only no available units , and only 15,000 applications were handed out.,
• According to a 2001 HUD report, 1.14 million affordable housing units were lost between 1997 and 1999. There are many reasons for this loss, but among other causes, when HUD privatized the building of new units, the contracts stipulated that, at the end of the 20-year contract, the owner could opt to convert the units from subsidized to market value. As each development reaches this 20-year mark, many units are lost to conversion from low-income to market.
INCOME VS COSTS
• Income has not kept pace with the rapidly rising housing costs across the nation.
• ”There are many “$6.00 an hour jobs in today’s economy, but not much $6.00 an hour housing.” – Andrew M. Cuomo, former HUD secretary (Housing and Development Reporter, 1998).
• “There is no jurisdiction in the United States in which a full-time job at the prevailing minimum wage (federal or state) provides enough income to allow a household to afford a one-bedroom home at the region’s fair market rent.” – National Low-Income Housing Coalition
• There are 43 million Americans living in poverty, more than any other time in the last 50 years. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/53510.html
• More and more Americans are relying on social services such as WIC, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/53510.html
• Cost-of-living adjustments to SSI benefit levels have not kept pace with the increasing cost of rental housing. Between 1998 and 2000, rental-housing costs have risen almost twice as much as the income of people with disabilities.
• In 2000, people with disabilities receiving SSI benefits needed to pay — on a national average — 98% of their SSI check to rent a modest one-bedroom unit at the published HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR).
• In 2000, there was not one single housing market in the country where a person with a disability receiving SSI benefits could afford to rent a modest efficiency or one-bedroom unit. Only 9% of those receiving SSI disability and not in a hospital or other facility receive housing assistance.
• Housing wage data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that people with disabilities receiving SSI benefits needed to triple their income to be able to afford a decent one-bedroom unit.
• Two years is commonly what people must survive while waiting for a judgment on their disability. If they earn *any* money in that time, it nullifies their application, and they are deemed able to work. A majority of claims are denied at the end of that two years, which means most of them then seek a Social Security lawyer to expedite their claim. If this appeal is successful, the lawyer takes 40% of the back pay the disabled person is due, with a limit of $5,300. Many lawyers will draw out the appeal until that amount has been reached.
• Once the disability payments begin, an SSDI recipient must wait 24 months before being eligible to receive Medicare. Meanwhile, the medical bills mount, many people lose everything including their homes, and are in debt.
• Considering 43 million people are disabled, about 17%; almost 1 out of 5 persons are disabled given these figures. [Congressional Committee findings for ADA].
• Congressional Committee findings during ADA testimony shows disabled are the poorest segment of the population.
• More than 50% of those receiving disability payments are on SSI, and receive $674 a month, total. The cost of living increase for SSI has been frozen at this level for at least two years. Cost-of-living adjustments to SSI benefit levels have not kept pace with the increasing cost of rental housing. Between 1998 and 2000, rental-housing costs rose almost twice as much as the income of people with disabilities.
From Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of An Urban Neighborhood, by Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar
• “Appropriations for HUD’s subsidized housing programs dropped 81 percent after adjusting for inflation between fiscal years 1978 and 1991.
• “By 1989, only one out of three of the 7.5 million renters with incomes below the official poverty line received a rental subsidy from any governmental housing program or lived in public housing.
• “Meanwhile, there was a sharp increase in federal housing subsidies that primarily benefit middle- and upper-income families, namely mortgage interest and property tax deductions.
• “In fiscal year 1990 direct spending on federal low-income housing assistance programs totaled $18.3 billion. More than four times as much was spent through the tax code in the form of homeowner deductions amounting to some $78.4 billion, disproportionately benefiting those with higher incomes.
• “In 1991, about 81 percent of the $37 billion in tax benefits from deductible mortgage interest went to the top 20 percent of households with incomes above $50,000.”
Elliot Eisenberg, senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders, presented the study results:
• The economic impact over a 10-year period of 615 units constructed, which is the typical number of units constructed every six years in the Denver area, it showed that the total impact to the economy topped $200 million.
• Eisenberg identified the first year, direct and indirect, local economic impacts as $57.6 million in local income, $5 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 732 local jobs.
• Eisenberg estimated the annually recurring economic impact beyond the first year at $16.7 million in local income, $2.3 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 192 local jobs. These impacts are the result of the new apartments being occupied and residents paying taxes and otherwise participating in the local economy year after year. It also includes the effect of increased property taxes.
• Statistically, there is an average of about one child living in every two units in the Denver area. “So there is about a half-of-kid in each unit,” on average, he said. ”So despite what people think, subsidized units are not burdensome to school districts. They are not causing schools to be over-crowded.”
The cost to children in poverty and homelessness
• Children who are homeless are sick and go to the emergency room more often than other children. They also have:
• Twice as many ear infections.
• Four times as many asthma attacks.
• Five times more stomach problems.
• Six times as many speech problems.
• Twice as many hospitalizations.
• There are at least one million homeless school children. This figure is important to remember because school records make this count much more accurate than other numbers of homelessness.
• Families with children comprise a third of the homeless population and are typically comprised of a single mother in her late twenties with two young children. It is estimated that 1 in 50 (1.5 million) of America’s children fall within this category and that approximately 650,000 are below age 6. American Psychological Association
• Extreme poverty is the strongest predictor of homelessness for families. These families are often forced to choose between housing and other necessities for their survival. 11% of American children living in poverty are homeless. Needs Sources
• Homeless children are twice as likely to experience hunger as their non-homeless peers. Hunger has a series of negative effects on the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of children. Needs Sources
• Half of school age homeless children experience problems with depression and anxiety and one in five homeless preschoolers have emotional problems that require professional care.
• Homelessness is linked to poor physical health for children including low birth weight, malnutrition, ear infections, exposure to environmental toxins, and chronic illness (e.g. asthma). Homeless children also are less likely to have adequate access to medical and dental care.
Increased Public Costs for Education
• Neurological brain imaging studies show homeless children suffering neurological damage. They are:
• More likely to have lower academic achievement.
• Four times as likely to have developmental delays.
• Twice as likely to have learning disabilities.
• Twice as likely to repeat a grade, most often due to frequent absences and moves to new schools.
• Prolonged homelessness can cause life-long neurological damage, as shown by hormonal and neurological studies. American Association for the Advancement of Science
• According to the American Psychological Association, Protein-energy malnutrition, iron deficiency anemia, iodine, zinc, and other vitamin deficiencies in early childhood can cause brain impairment.
• Very often, homeless families have to move every month, disrupting the schooling of the children, and making it difficult for teachers trying to deal with this level of inconsistency. In order to alleviate this inconsistent (–need another word) school attendance, federal law mandates that homeless children receive transportation to their “school of origin”, no matter where the children are staying. Of course, that entails more funds for this transportation. In fact, in Anchorage $240,000 was spent in taxi fees, another $82,000 for bus and van costs, and $60,000 on gas vouchers to help homeless parents drive their children to school.
• ”In the 2003-2004 school year, the district spent $64,000 to transport about 1,000 homeless students. The cost jumped the next year to $150,000, and it has steadily and consistently risen since. The cost topped $300,000 in the 2008-2009 year.” Anchorage Daily News
• Other states don’t have the funds to transport children to school.
• Studies show that family service agencies are more likely to take homeless children away from their families rather than to provide the services necessary to keep the children with their families. In fact, Title IV E 6.1 billion dollars are earmarked solely for taking kids, 1.5 billion for Adoption Assistance, 1.7 billion for foster care maintenance payments, and 2.3 billion for foster care administration and placement training.
• Children’s Services spends literally 1000% more to “remove” kids than to give services to the family. Richard Wexlar (National Coalition For ), based on the Annie E. Casey Foundation. ALL this funding is based on how many children taken, NOT on
• returning them to their families,
• Children are 3 times more likely to be abused in foster homes than if they had gone home, according to Michigan and WA State studies of over 200,000 foster alumni.
• All of them go into family court with tax-paid lawyers to defend THEMSELVES but there is no such independent defender for the child.
• Nearly half of the funds for families go for administrative and social worker salary costs.
1.6 to 2.8 million youth run away each year. 1.3 million runaways and homeless youth live on the streets of America. Many youth who run away are victims of physical and sexual abuse.
• 80% of runaway and homeless girls report having been sexually and/or physically abused. National Runaway Switchboard
• One-third of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide.
• According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 5,000 unaccompanied young people die as a result of assault, illness, or suicide. National Runaway Switchboard
• Many runaway youth engage in sexually risky behaviors (sometimes for their own survival), which places them at risk of HIV, other STDs and unintended pregnancies.
• ”Without a support program, nearly 50 percent of the young adults would likely end up homeless, according to a study completed by the UCLA School of Social Welfares Center for Child and Family Policy Studies.”
• ”Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth make up an estimated 3% to 5% of the general U.S. population. Yet they make up more than 20%—and possibly up to 40%—of the homeless youth population.”
• One study found that in a single year, more than 2,500 homeless teens could not be placed in a transitional living program because of lack of funding. Another 4,200 youth were turned away from emergency shelters and other basic programs for the homeless.”
• Also, emerging research has shown that GLBT homeless youth are 7 times more likely to be victims of violent crime.
• ”About 25 percent of those who experience homelessness have spent some time in foster care or other out-of-home placements,” says Martha Burt, a researcher and leading expert on homelessness for the Urban Institute. The US Department of Health & Human Service estimates that about 20,000 youth “age out” of the foster care system each year, meaning they are forced to leave their foster care placement and do not reunite with their biological family. Many of these youth have no choice but to become homeless. An estimated 40 percent of young adults (18 to 20 years old) experiencing homelessness spent time in the foster care system as a child.
• ”While all homeless youth can try to find help and assistance at shelters, it’s not easy. One study found that in a single year, more than 2,500 homeless teens could not be placed in a transitional living program because of lack of funding. Another 4,200 youth were turned away from emergency shelters and other basic programs for the homeless.”
Elder Poverty: The Hidden Shame
• According to Paul Downey, president-elect of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs,the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold is not even half of what a senior needs to make it.
• The statistics used by the federal government to determine these amounts are based on 1955 consumption patterns. At that time, food was approximately 1/3 of an average family budget.
• This does not take into account the skyrocketing cost of housing or medical costs, which have far surpassed the 1955 levels
• Currently under these old standards about 9.7 percent of elders live in poverty. In actuality the figure is over 18 percent, or over 7 million people.
See: Living on the Edge
By Barry Yeoman, March & April 2010
• ”Homeless elders, although increasing in numbers, continue to be a forgotten population.”
• ”Elderly people who are homeless are more likely to experience multiple medical problems and chronic illnesses that may have gone untreated for years.”
• ”Due to the transitory nature of an emergency shelter, which often provides only a bed for the night, it is usually not an appropriate placement for an elderly homeless person.”
• ”One of the dilemmas faced by homeless persons who are elderly is the long waiting list for affordable senior housing. In most urban areas, the waiting list for subsidized housing can be as long as 3 to 5 years.”
U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services http://bphc.hrsa.gov/policy/pal0303.htm
• A study of selected urban areas in the USA, Australia, and England published in 2004 revealed that the City of Boston experienced a 39% increase of older homeless people since 1993 (Crane, 2004).
National Coalition For The Homeless
• The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently released a report predicting that homelessness among the elderly will increase substantially over the next decade. It predicts that if numbers of elderly persons living in deep poverty holds up in addition to the aging trend, elderly homelessness will increase by 33 percent – from 44,172 to 58,772 – between 2010 and 2020. By 2050, it predicts that more than 95,000 Americans aged 60 and older will be homeless.
• Women veterans are up to 4 times more likely to be homeless compared to non-veteran women and male veterans.
• Forty percent of female homeless veterans report experiences of sexual assault in the military.
• Homeless women veterans are more likely to experience severe forms of mental illness compared to men, mostly because of higher rates of Military Sexual Trauma.
• The risk of death for homeless women veterans is substantially higher than for women in the general population, especially among younger cohorts.
Service Women’s Action Network http://www.servicewomen.org/userfiles/file/HWVfactsheet.pdf
• 85% of homeless veterans completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans.
• Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans. 33% of the male homeless population are veterans.
• About 1.5 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
• There is a common but erroneous belief that the majority of homeless people are alcoholic, drug addicts and/or mentally ill. To the extent that this perception is accurate, veterans represent a large and disproportionate number of the true statistics. 76% of homeless veterans experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It is important to remember, though, that 70% of homeless people do not have these problems. Of those who do, proper treatment is necessary.
Statistics from National Coalition For Homeless Veterans http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm
The Criminalization of Homelessness
• “In the research of Fisk and her colleagues, people were asked how different social groups are viewed by their society. When asked a series of questions about social warmth and the competency of different social and ethnic groups, the answers clustered around four emotional responses: pity, envy, pride, and disgust. For example, people routinely react to the homeless with disgust. This is puzzling enough. You might have thought people would pity the homeless, empathize with their position, and feel sorry for them. Not at all. And in a functional MRI study, when study participants were presented with pictures of members from each social and ethnic group, the medial prefrontal cortex–the site that registers the potential for an object’s social action–popped for all but one group: the homeless. The homeless maybe seen as human, but not fully so, not as social actors.” The Empathy Gap by J.D. Trout 2009
• Emotional bias of this magnitude interferes with seeking effective solutions. Criminalization of homelessness is common in cities, now. Some have even passed laws against feeding homeless people.
• Aside from the threat this poses to the survival of individuals who are homeless, the costs incurred to enforce these laws are counterproductive. Wouldn’t the money spent arresting, jailing, and prosecuting homeless people and Good Samaritans be better spent on providing housing?
• Some cities are following the lead of Boulder, CO making it illegal to fall asleep in public. As has been shown, even if you are staying in a shelter, you are likely to be very tired and sleepy during the day. Between October 15 and December 31 of 2009, 333 people were turned away from shelters due to lack of space. 1,650 tickets have been served on homeless people for violating the ordinance against “camping” in the city, which is defined as falling asleep with any kind of covering, such as a jacket or blanket. Rather than spend money to create the necessary housing, the city chooses to spend an inordinate amount of money for law enforcement, courts, and jails for people whose only offense is sleeping in public. Those homeless people who are able to work and seeking employment or working now find their chances of being hired or their employment threatened due records of arrests and convictions. Other cities choose to simply make it uncomfortable for homeless people to lie down by creating special benches to prevent reclining.
• Again money which could be spent on housing spent, instead, on designers and purchase of benches to make homeless people uncomfortable and deny them sleep or rest.
• Some cities are using their funds to send homeless people out of town, thus relocating the ‘problem’ to another location. One more example of money spent on, yet another, non-solution.
• All humans are physical beings and require a place to physically be. Spending the money to shove them from place to place rather than solving the problem makes little sense. The only effective and humane long term solution is to provide adequate low cost housing. The day has to come where we quit ‘kicking the can down the road.’
• Research shows people in this culture judge people by how they perceive them in terms of having personal control over their situation. The prevailing belief is that people control their circumstances. As a result, “Obese people were among the most negatively viewed groups, on par with homeless people and politicians. The only groups rated more negatively and more disgusting than homeless people were drug addicts and smokers.”
• A person working full time at a minimum wage job which does not provide enough money for a place to live is not suffering from a lack of personal control or responsibility.
• An injured worker, receiving $674 a month in disability pay is not suffering from a lack of personal control or responsibility because they can’t afford a place to live.
• As anyone who has seen road rage can attest, there is a lot of free-floating anger in this society. As a result of the work of organizations like The Anti-Defamation League, NAACP, PFLAG, NOW, and other Civil Rights groups, that anger is not as often misplaced onto ethnic, racial, religious and gender groups as it once was.
• The prejudice of the past is incomprehensible to most of us today.
• But that free-floating anger has only found another target … poor and homeless people who have no laws protecting them from hate and discrimination.
• It is important to form groups to ensure the rights of all people, including homeless people.
• “The fact that people become heroes and sheroes can be credited to their ability to identify and empathize with “the other.” These men and women could continue to live quite comfortably … but they chose not to. They make the decision to be conscious of the other — the homeless and the hopeless, the downtrodden and oppressed. Heroism has nothing to do with skin color or social status. It is a state of mind and a willingness to act for what is right and just.”- Maya Angelou, excerpted from “An American Odyssey: From Martin Luther King to Rodney King”
• It is not human nature for people to be self-centered and selfish.
• In February of 2010, scientists at Caltech released their findings of the first physiological evidence that human aversion to inequality is hardwired in our brains.
• In a series of experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the responses of the reward centers of the brains of 40 volunteers showed more reaction to poor people receiving a reward than to rich people receiving a reward.
• ”What was especially interesting about the finding, [Professor John O'Doherty] says, is that the brain responds ‘very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.’ ”
• We celebrate Thanksgiving in remembrance of the kindness the Indians showed to the Pilgrims, helping them to survive in their adopted land.
• When funding for low-income housing was cut in the ‘80s, funding for shelters was established, and became the prime “solution” for housing. As a result, while shelters are supposed to be emergency and temporary, they have become de facto housing. Shelters are not only an inadequate solution to the problem of homelessness, they often compound the very problems they seek to solve while creating new problems for homeless people and the community. Those who work and volunteer in shelters struggle to provide a haven for homeless people but are hamstrung by having to work within the existing structure. They often wind up as discouraged, demoralized, and burnt out as those they seek to serve.
• Imagine this scenario with me: You live in the western U.S. and a wildfire has broken out. You watched flames rapidly approach while you drove away, and you don’t know
• whether you have a home or not. You and your neighbors have been herded into a high school gym which has been temporarily converted into a shelter. You are in shock, and are greeted with these words: “Come with me into the bathroom. I want to watch you pee into this paper cup to see if you have been taking drugs.”
• What would your reaction be?
• This scenario is routine in homeless shelters all over the nation. People lose their homes, women run with their children from an abusive situation, rents have risen and people on disability can no longer afford a place to live, they arrive at a shelter and are greeted by this invasive and humiliating demand. Shelter directors claim it is to “protect everyone”, and that they are testing everyone to make it “fair”. In fact, it is illegal and unconstitutional, but poor people have no choice.
• Putting aside the difficulties shelter living poses to the residents in terms of the loss of dignity and demoralizing atmosphere, let’s look at some of the impacts on the community:
Disease and illness
• Since the advent of modern medicine, it has been known that crowding people into close quarters encourages the spread of disease. Homeless people have a very high incidence of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The incidence of Tuberculosis in shelters is 11 to 14 times the national average. Government directives given to homeless people advise them to have a TB test if they have been in a shelter for a month or more. Treating a case of tuberculosis is expensive, never mind the personal suffering of the patient caused by the disease and the side effects of treatment.
• Treatment-resistant forms of the disease are increasing at an alarming rate. The ramifications for public health and the monetary costs of this are obvious. For the cost of treating a case of resistant TB, and some cases of MRSA, a fine home could have been purchased for the patient and that does not include the total cost of the spread of these conditions throughout the community. Add in the costs of homeless children exposed to various contagious respiratory infections such as bronchitis and influenza and the picture emerges that the ‘shelter solution’ has cost us far more than it has saved us.
• Skin infections, including MRSA, are common in shelters. Community based MRSA is a public health hazard and is taxing our health care system as well as individuals affected.
• The nutritional value of meals in many shelters is low, and deficiency diseases are common in many areas. Nutritional deficiencies weaken the immune system making the possibility of contracting infections more likely.
• Single adults are often housed in a large, crowded, dorm-like setting of several cots or bunk beds in a room, or left sitting in hallways.
• Sleep is hard to come by in a setting where people are coughing, tossing, turning, having bad dreams, and getting up to go to the bathroom. Lack of sleep, especially during stressful times, not only causes emotional difficulties, but causes physical distress as well. The mental, emotional, and physical damage done by sleep deprivation are well established. It is known four of the worst man made tragedies in recent history (the explosion of the Challenger, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Exxon Valdez spill) were the direct result of decisions made by one sleep deprived individual.
• Exposure to disease, sleep deprivation, improper nutrition are all issues which make emergency housing’s stated goals of helping people get back on their feet difficult, at best, and impossible in many instances. The conditions in shelters ensure they are working at cross purpose to their goals.
• It is known four of the worst man made tragedies in recent history (the explosion of the Challenger, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and the Exxon Valdez spill) were the direct result of decisions made by one sleep deprived individual.
• In the United States, the annual cost of fatigue-related accidents is $12.5 billion.
• http://www.carleton.ca/JMC/cnews/23032001/feature.htm Clearly, sleep deprivation isn’t simply uncomfortable; it is a serious and preventable issue.
• Keeping in mind that most homeless people are neither mentally ill or substance addicted, those exhibiting these problems and living on the streets incur many more costs than those with those problems who are properly housed.
• There was an oft-repeated story in the New Yorker about a homeless man called Million Dollar Murray. This homeless man was well-known to the locals and well-liked. However, his problems caused him to often require city services. When all the costs he incurred were added up, they came to over one million dollars. When he was housed at city expense, and given proper treatment, he did quite well, and the costs were much less.
• ”It cost us one million dollars not to do something about Murray,” O’Bryan said.
• The cost of homelessness can be quite high. Hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, police intervention, and emergency shelter expenses can add up quickly, making homelessness surprisingly expensive for municipalities and taxpayers.