Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Homelessness increases in rural West

A July 13 post by the always-alert jhwygirl at 4&20 blackbirds alerted hummingbirdminds to an alarming trend, one that may have a huge impact on those who dwell (or try to) in these wide open spaces.

In the July 12 Washington Post, Alexi Mostrous writes about the increase in U.S. homelessness, especially in rural and suburban areas.

Louis Gill doesn't like to turn anyone away. The director of the Bakersfield Homeless Center in California has taken to laying out cots and mattresses between the shelter's 174 registered beds to cope with the rush of homeless families brought to his doors by the financial crisis.

"Last year, we saw a 34 percent increase in homeless families and a 24 percent increase in homeless children," he said. "Why do we go beyond capacity? Because in a just society, a child should not have to sleep outside or in a car."

Gill is a frontline witness to the change in the makeup of the country's homeless. The stereotype of a homeless person as a single man no longer applies. A resident of the Bakersfield center is far more likely to be a young mother with a "good, solid job and a mortgage that she just couldn't pay."

"They're like folks you know and that you've worked with," Gill said. "Maybe the work's not there right now. Maybe they got behind on their payments. But the idea of a typical homeless person has changed. We're seeing individuals come in that have never had to access the safety net before."

A study by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) measured changes in the number of homeless between 2007 and 2008, before the height of the economic crisis, and Director Shaun Donovan acknowledged that the data do not reflect "the great many more families who were living on the edge, doubling up with friends and family members, and struggling to stay out of the shelters and off the streets."

Some case studies collected by the department's Homelessness Pulse Project suggest that rural and suburban areas were particularly ill-equipped to cope with the new wave of homeless. And many of the states that experienced the largest increases in homelessness are predominately rural.

In Mississippi, the number of homeless increased 42 percent last year; in Wyoming, 40 percent; in Montana and Missouri, 23 percent; and in Iowa, 22 percent.

It's good to know that Wyoming is right up there (or right down there) with Mississippi when it comes to homelessness. But these statistics are now a year old. What's happened around the rural West in the past year, when the walls really came crashing down?

The Welcome Mat Day Center in Cheyenne is the only one of its kind in the Capital City. Comea House at 1504 Stinson Ave. provides overnight shelter. Welcome Mat provides a variety of on-site services at its 907 Logan Avenue facility. The Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless publishes a newsletter, Wyoming Winds. Its web site has a list of homeless resources in Wyoming. Go to http://www.wch.vcn.com/wchsvcs.htm

What's my homeless risk? I have a good job and a house we call home. My wife works and likes what she does. Our teen is working this summer and so is our home-from-college son. If those jobs disappeared tomorrow, how long would it take for us to be homeless? My job includes the health ionsurance that covers us all. No job and no health insurance spells doom, especially when Chris has a pre-existing condition known as diabetes.

We're a resourceful family, but one that spends most of its income on mortgage, cars, groceries and ongoing bills. We were frugal during those boom times when our fellow Americans were spending freely on vacations and boats and eating out at Olive Garden. Retirement is compiling daily, but savings are not.

How close are we to homelessness? What about you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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