It is politically, socially, morally and religiously unacceptable for people to live in substandard housing~Millard Fuller
My original blog post was going to be about the key components necessary to design a strong effective volunteer program. Then I went outside….and changed my mind. It’s cold outside. Not just a little cold, and not just cold in a few places. It’s freezing in over 80% of the country. While the cold made me uncomfortable as I ran from my car to my house, It made me think of the people sleeping either outside or in inadequate shelter tonight. This is what’s on my mind and on my heart right now and that’s what I want to talk about. The millions of people in this country who need safe, decent, affordable shelter. I promise to blog about the importance of cost recovery soon. This post is about them.
The United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) named Housing as an integral part of the right to an adequate standard of living.
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”[i]
Safe, decent shelter is a human right. For some people that’s debatable. I am not one of those people. I would even say it’s one of the most BASIC of all human rights. A secure place to live provides human dignity, physical and mental health and overall higher quality of life for all .Yet as important as adequate housing is, 1 billion people live in inadequate housing, with in excess of 100 million people living in conditions classified as homelessness.
Data suggests that improved shelter leads to an increase in health which in turn has catalytic effects on many aspects of family livelihood and security. Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Reasons why homelessness persists include stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs which offer fewer benefits. Low-wage workers have been particularly have been left behind as the disparity between rich and poor has mushroomed. The past two years with a down economy has been brutal for those whom where already behind. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty. The declining availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness.
A lack of affordable housing and the limited housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. According to HUD, in recent years the shortages of affordable housing are most severe for units affordable to renters with extremely low incomes. Federal support for low-income housing has fallen 49% from 1980 to 2003 (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). About 200,000 rental housing units are destroyed annually. Renting is one of the most viable options for low income people (Joint Center for Housing Studies).
There is a common misconception that homelessness is an issue that only pertains to single men and women, but in reality thousands of families a year will experience homelessness. In fact, 41% of the homeless population is comprised of families. Homelessness is a devastating experience for families. It disrupts every aspect of family life, breaking the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development. The problem of family homelessness is not solely restricted to urban areas; rural and suburban communities are increasingly plagued by the problem. President Obama addressed this issue when he stated “It is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.” (Press Conference, Feb. 2009).
You can help end homelessness by simply CAREing.
- C – Contribute (food drives, money, etc.,) Homeless “survival kits.” Create and distribute kits that include items such as cups, pots, pans, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and cosmetics. (Try coordinating this through a group that gives out meals from a van, for example.) During cold weather like we currently are experiencing, organize drives for blankets, coats, hats, scarves, mittens, socks, and the like.
- A – Advocate-Get connected to a coalition. Volunteer at your local, state, or national housing or homeless advocacy coalition, or make a financial contribution to support their work. For the name of the coalition nearest you, see NCH’s Directory of National Housing and Homeless Organizations.
- R – Reach Out (volunteering)-Work at a shelter. Take an evening or overnight shift. Help with clerical work such as answering phones, typing, filing, or sorting mail. Serve food, wash dishes, or sort and distribute clothes.
- E – Educate Involve others! Encourage your classmates, co-workers, church/synagogue members, or civic club to join or support your efforts.
Tomorrow morning pack up a bag of food and drop off at your local shelter. Go find all of your mismatched gloves, scarves and hats and pass them out to people that you may see on the street. Do not walk by another homeless person and not do something. Whether or not you choose to give change, please don’t look away from homeless people as if they do not exist. Making eye contact, saying a few words, or smiling can reaffirm the humanity of a person at a time when its oh so needed.
I know everyone reading this post is from a community of influence–personal engagement leads to a transformation of community values and priorities. Let’s make homelessness a priority and make it politically, socially, morally and religiously unacceptable.
[i] United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fact Sheet No. 21, [i] Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 25.1