Each year, during the week before Thanksgiving, various advocacy groups come together in an attempt to raise awareness of the enormous problem of hunger and homelessness in this country.
A number of coordinated events and activities, such as the “One Night Without a Home” campaign, are presently being planned in communities throughout the US during the week of November 14-20.
One of the goals of this and other campaigns is to arouse interest among the apathetic and to spur action among those with influence – including leaders in government, business, media, philanthropy, the faith community and others.
Although the “face” most associated with homelessness is the one of the scraggly coiffed and disheveled Viet Nam vet along the highway exit ramp holding a handmade cardboard sign asking for money, it is important to understand that the homeless come from all walks of life.
Certainly mental illness and substance abuse are frequent contributors, but the ranks of the homeless include hard-working families living paycheck to paycheck when the paychecks stop coming for some reason, as well as runaway teens, displaced immigrants, social renegades and battered women and their young children fleeing abusive situations with nowhere to turn. There are those who find themselves in such dire straits because of a lifetime of bad choices and others through no fault of their own.
Most homeless are hidden from view – in cardboard camps in woods just outside most cities or the ones bouncing from one temporary shelter to another or to the houses of classmate to classmate – perhaps never sleeping out in the cold, but homeless nevertheless.
There are those who will get their lives back together with a little help and others who will die on the streets. They all deserve another chance.
Homelessness in the United States
On any given night, approximately 750,000 men, women and children are homeless in the US. (Homelessness Counts, 2007. Washington, DC: National Alliance to End Homelessness.)
- 56% are living in shelters and transitional housing, while 44% are living without shelter.
- 59% are single adults and 41% are persons living in families.
- Over 98,000 are homeless families.
- 23% are chronically homeless.
Over the course of a year, between 2.5 and 3.5 million people will live either on the streets or in an emergency shelter. (Homelessness in the United States of America, the National Alliance to End Homelessness.)
- There are approximately 107,000 homeless veterans in the US, including 7,000 women. As the number of women in the military grows, research is mounting that their return to civilian life is particularly difficult. Women veterans are four times more likely to experience homelessness compared to their civilian counterparts. (US Dept. of Veterans Affairs)
- More than half (56) percent of all homeless veterans have completed high school or a GED program.
- The number of veterans reporting problems with drugs (40 percent) and alcohol (58 percent) does not differ significantly from non-veteran homeless males. (National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients)
Families and Children
- Every year, 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States, making up about 50 percent of the homeless population over the course of the year. (Family Homelessness: Where to From Here? National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference on Ending Family Homelessness, 2004.)
- 43 percent of children living with homeless parents are under the age of 6. (Homelessness in the United States of America. Prepared by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.)
- Research identifies the lack of affordable housing as the primary cause of homelessness among families in the United States.
- Without a housing subsidy, a family has to make $16.31 an hour ($33,924.80 annually) to afford housing at the national fair market rent; the hourly rate is much higher in higher-cost rental markets. (Out of Reach: 2006. Washington, DC: National Low Income Housing Coalition.)
- 20 percent of homeless families stated that welfare reductions caused their homelessness. (The Institute for Children and Poverty, January 2008)
- Half of all homeless children attended at least three different schools in one year.
- Three-quarters of homeless children perform below grade level in reading. (The Institute for Children and Poverty, January 2008.)
- In a national survey of homeless people, domestic violence was the second most frequently stated cause of homelessness for families. (Washington, DC: Interagency Council on Homeless.)
- Half of all homeless women and children experienced physical violence, and 92 percent of homeless mothers were victims of physical or sexual assault. (The Institute for Children and Poverty, January 2008.)
Hunger and Poverty
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service recently reported that 49 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, are food insecure – which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal.
- The nation’s poverty rate jumped to 14.3% in 2009, its highest level since 1994. The 43.6 million Americans living under the poverty threshold is the highest number in 51 years of record-keeping. (US Census Bureau)
- 1 in 6 children in the US are impacted by hunger and nutrition.
With winter just around the corner and the US economy still in shambles, many hunger relief and homeless shelter professionals are bracing themselves for a challenging season ahead. Most social service organizations dedicated to helping this population are struggling to make ends meet too.
Ways to Help
- Learn more about National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week by visiting: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/projects/awareness/awareness.html
- Volunteer and/or make a financial contribution to your local food bank and homeless shelter.
- Meet with your local representative and implore him or her to make ending homelessness a priority.
The issues of hunger and homelessness are intractable and complex. National Hunger and Homelessness Week provides a good opportunity to explore the myriad issues closer and hopefully take at least one small step toward ending this national tragedy.