Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘homeless families’

My Mom and Dad knew each other in High School and by the time they started dating seriously the Great Depression had engulfed the world. They were engaged for about 3 years while Mom worked as a bookkeeper earning $14 a week, not today’s 40-hour week. Dad worked for a small chain of shoe stores, driving a truck and delivering inventory to a half-dozen or so small stores spread throughout Ohio. When he wasn’t gone on his deliveries he organized and shelved boxes of shoes. After they got married Dad started attending night classes to become an accountant. He earned less than Mom, $13 a week. So they lived on $27 a week, $108 a month in a rent controlled apartment in the Cedar Central Project in Cleveland, Ohio.

For some reason when I think about my parents’ first years of marriage a silly ditty repeats over and over in my head:

“My Ma gave me a nickel to buy a pickle, I didn’t buy a pickle, I bought some “chewin” gum. Chew chew chew some chewin gum I bought some chewin gum….” I can’t explain it, maybe the nickel for a pickle, but it was the Depression. In those days a loaf of good bread, Mom told me, cost maybe 15 cents, she couldn’t remember for certain but;

“A lot of folks couldn’t afford that loaf of bread.”

My parents were young, in love and happy but $108 a month to live on? Incomprehensible.

I recently met a young single mother with two children, a boy 7 and a girl four. Her husband, if that’s what he was, abandoned them. Just took off was all she would tell me. She and her kids were subsequently evicted from their apartment because she was unable to afford the rent. The three of them are currently living in a family shelter. She still works the same job she had when the guy took off. She’s a server in a well-known chain restaurant. She earns $2.50 an hour plus tips but she shares the tips with the people who bus the tables and, she flashed a sarcastic smile, the manager. She usually averages $10-12 an hour. That’s above the current minimum wage, but she is not allowed to work more than 30 hours a week, on split shifts. Something about not having to supply medical insurance benefits…maybe?

So—she works hard, takes good care of her children and earns about $1,440 a month. She doesn’t have health insurance for her or her children so when any of them are ill she sits for hours in an emergency room waiting area. She doesn’t have a car to get around so she can look for a better paying job, or to attend any kind of training that would qualify her for a better job. She does manage to pay for a cell phone. She considers it essential in case one of her kids gets sick at school or daycare. It costs her about $70 a month.

In 2013 the estimate of the full-time (40-hour work week) hourly wage that a family must earn to afford a decent apartment, at the HUD estimated Fair Market Rent while spending no more than 30% of their income on housing, was estimated to be $18.79. If this young mother earned $18.79 per hour she could afford to spend about $225 a month for rent. She’s been looking for an affordable apartment but there are long waiting lists for those that come available and she can’t really afford any of them.

Oh yes, she also has to supply food, clothing and even a very occasional treat for herself and her two children. She doesn’t have a bank account so she pays an exorbitant fee to cash her pay check at a check cashing place and frequently has to get a small loan from that same “business” against her next paycheck, at usurious rates. The folks at the homeless shelter where she and her children now live are doing their best to help her navigate all the possible programs designed to help folks in her situation, but it is a morass and she, understandably gets very frustrated and depressed.

In the face of this the legislature in my state of Washington failed to produce any new help for the working homeless this past session and by their inaction may have made the situation worse for many homeless families. Private and faith-based groups are helping as much as possible but those resources are incapable of providing more than a small fraction of what is needed. Government programs, with all citizens contributing their fair share, are the only possible way to deal with these problems.

Read Full Post »

In my last column I described some of the major issues involved in the Homelessness Advocacy Day January 28th of this year. Perhaps the most disturbing fact I learned of is that children from homeless families suffer from increased rates of illness and poor school performance. Problems that are directly linked to the lack of a permanent home.

I wrote about the Washington State Housing Trust (HFT) and the essential work it does despite the outrageous cuts the fund has absorbed since 2007. I wrote about the state’s Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program and how terribly underfunded it is. I discussed the essential help provided by the minimal fees assessed by the State of Washington for the recording of certain real estate transactions and that unless action is taken this fund will suffer cuts in funding.

My group of advocates from the 21st Legislative District met with the politicians representing us; Representatives Mary Helen Roberts and newly appointed Lillian Ortiz-Self and our Senator Marko Liias. Mr. Liias formerly represented us in the Washington House of Representatives and was recently appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat resulting from our long-time Senator Shin’s retirement due to illness.

During each of the separate meetings we had with these public servants we reminded them of the important work done by the HFT, HEN and the real estate recording fee fund. We emphasized the importance of these programs and the need to pass legislation limiting the number of times prospective renters must pay for “tenant screening” reports. We reminded them that there is a bill pending this year that will provide that prospective renters will only have to pay the fee once and the report generated will be available to all prospective landlords for thirty days with no additional charges.

I have great sympathy and empathy for all individuals on the street. However the vast majority of individuals who are homeless and living on the streets or “camp grounds” or overnight shelters are dealing with drug and/or alcohol and/or mental health issues. These folks require a different set of services and solutions compared to families who are, usually through no fault of their own, homeless.

Family homeless can often be traced to the primary breadwinner having health problems or losing their job. Whole intact families and very commonly single mothers or fathers are trying to cope with minimal wage jobs that cannot provide enough resource to feed, cloth and provide housing. Some families have lost their homes as victims of predatory housing lenders who put the family in housing they could not afford. The children of these families are innocent and many times suffer the most.

Private organizations, individuals and many faith-based organizations have stepped up to try to offset the loss of government funding intended to address the issue of family homelessness. The best efforts of these resources are woefully inadequate. The situation today is worse than it was a year ago and it continues to worsen. Everyone must contribute to solve this disgraceful problem in this, the wealthiest country in the world. The only way to insure that all pay their fair share in this effort is for our government to do so, even though that will, no doubt, require an increase in taxation.

I am happy to report that the progressive thinking and sympathetic public servants who represent the 21st District warmly received us and were sympathetic to our message. Mary Helen Roberts, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Marko Liias promised to do everything they could to support and grow these programs. All three deserve our thanks and support. Charlize agrees.

I hope that wherever you live you will find out what your state is doing to solve the problems homeless families face. I hope you will become an advocate for programs that address this issue.

Read Full Post »