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Picture a baby – shivering, hungry, with no place to sleep. Her mother, laid off six months ago and unable to find a new job, has just been put out of her home. Because the local shelters are full, both mother and child are going to spend the night in the freezing cold, without a roof over their heads. That image is painful and disturbing, but it’s become all too true: More women and children are out on the streets, abandoned and alone in these United States.
Money and Markets’ Martin Weiss: “According to a report released on March 10 of this year, more than 1.5 million American children have lost the security of sleeping in their own bedrooms … As a result, 1 out of 50 children are now homeless, excluding runaways.
“The ‘lucky’ ones are imposing on family, friends or relatives. The less fortunate are sleeping in the family car or finding themselves in crowded, noisy, oft-dangerous shelters. Or worse.”
“America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the report to which Weiss refers, was issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness. They examined data from 2005-06 in order to come to their troubling conclusions; the data they analyzed are several years old, so we can only guess as to the current number of children cast out onto the streets nationwide.
The Center president, Ellen Bassuk, confirmed that homeless numbers would escalate as home foreclosures continued to rise. As of last count, 34% of the homeless were families with children, and a woman was head of the family in 84% of those cases.
Shockingly, the National Center on Family Homelessness reports that 42 percent of homeless children are younger than six years of age. Of course, this would include the most vulnerable of all: infants. Imagine, if you will, a helpless, hungry baby exposed to below-freezing temperatures. No child should have to undergo such an ordeal.
The states with terrible overall grades on the Center’s report card on family homelessness include, beginning with the worst score: Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, and California.
In addition, three states share the disgrace of having the highest numbers of homeless youngsters: Louisiana, with 204,053; California, with 292,624; and Texas, with 337,105 homeless children. Unfortunately, those numbers are expected to rise as jobs dwindle and foreclosures increase.
The mainstream media are beginning, albeit grudgingly, to report that the homeless and tent city problems in the United States may be a direct result of our collective financial woes. Says the Sacramento Bee (4/11/2009): “ . . .The number of homeless families with children went up 14.3 percent over 2007, a trend that observers said likely reflects the shaky economy, unemployment and mortgage meltdown.”
If families are indeed becoming homeless at record rates due to the death-spiraling economy, it is not always out in the open. In fact, many homeless moms with children are almost invisible to the public eye. A Reuters article (“Hidden homeless emerge as U.S. economy worsens”) brands homeless people who sleep in their cars or vacant storage units as the “hidden homeless.” Individuals who move in with friends or relatives for temporary shelter are also part of this “hidden homeless” group.
Think this homeless trend is short lived? Think again. In general, the number of families seeking shelter and food support has doubled just in the last several months, according to an emergency housing project based in Arizona. Just a few weeks ago, St. John’s Shelter in Sacramento was reporting a turn-away rate of 230 women and children a day; now, they turn away over 300 per day, and say many have been affected by the dismal economy.
Since shelters across the country are turning women and children away due to lack of adequate space, where else can desperate families find a place to sleep? If there is nothing else to be found, a tent city might be a last-ditch solution. But surely, a shantytown would not be a welcome prospect for most.
Single females and women with children consider spending the night in a tent city “shelter” as a last resort. Not only can it be dangerous, but also the unsanitary conditions make living in a tent city a homeless woman’s worst nightmare.
Yet, what other options do they have? Not many – and even so-called solutions offered by government officials can be taken only at face value.
Consider the country’s most infamous shantytown as a case in point. The tent city in Sacramento is closing. Police officers informed the homeless that they would have to leave the tent city or face possible arrest.
Sacramento bureaucrats have readied temporary homeless shelters, but the new facilities will shut their doors to the destitute early this summer – thus paving the way for yet another tent city to spawn. According to Sacramento’s Loaves and Fishes, “The winter shelter closes July 1. This will put approximately 160 people back on the streets to live, plus most of the added people from the tent city.”
Remember the days of the circus big top? We may see the big top once again, but utilized in a much more contemporary way: housing a much larger homeless population under its enormous tent.
KATHY SANBORN is an author, journalist, and recording artist with a new CD, Peaceful Sounds, now a top seller on CDBaby. Listen to clips of her songs, including “Forever War,” and buy the album now at http://cdbaby.com/cd/kathysanborn.