Everyone Needs a Bed

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  A man rests on a street in Manhattan on September 28, 2012 in New York City. In response to an
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28: A man rests on a street in Manhattan on September 28, 2012 in New York City. In response to an increase in New York's homeless population, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration plans to open at least five new shelters by the end of this year. Currently the citywide shelter population is 46,036, including 26,503 adults and 19,537 children, which represents a 29% increase since spring 2011. The numbers of New Yorkers counted as homeless have surged after the city ended a rent-subsidy program known as Advantage. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Homelessness, poverty, recession; you would hope that a New Year would wipe away all of the bad things that have happened to our nation... but it does not. We still wake up in 2013 with the same issues we had in 2012. Is there any hope in sight?

According to the U.S. Census, the official poverty rate was 15 percent. There were 46 million people in poverty. Mississippi was at 20.8 percent, New Mexico was 19.7 percent, Louisiana was 18.2 percent, South Carolina was 17.7 percent and Arizona came in at 17.6 percent. To add more heartache, the poverty rate for children under age 18 was 21.9 percent across the country with 32 percent of children in poverty in Mississippi, 31 percent in New Mexico and 29 percent in Louisiana.

Talking about our kids, The Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that the number of working youth dropped by almost half since 2000 and employment among young people is at the lowest level since the 1950s. Nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce which will lead to chronic underemployment as adults and failure to gain the skills employers will need in the coming years. This just feeds the cycle where they become another taxpayer cost with our government spending more to support them. When you consider that 20 percent or 1.4 million of these youths have children of their own, the cycle accelerates where this group can't find full time work and build a career, which now perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The dire consequence of poverty is homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports there are 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number 239,403 are people in families and 392,945 are individuals. About 10 percent of the homeless population, 62,619 are veterans. During the year, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness. Twenty three percent of people experiencing homelessness on any given night are children. Seven hundred seventy thousand homeless children are enrolled in public schools. An estimated 50,000 youth experience long-term homelessness. Also, homeless people spend four days longer per hospital visit than the normal population.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has $2.146 billion to spend to help the homeless, which is an increase of $245 million from last year. But this is really a town by town, city by city issue that has to be solved locally with help from the HUD budget. The Chicago Tribune reported in December where the DuPage County PADS (public action to deliver shelter) finished 12 apartments partially funded by HUD to help transition the homeless into permanent residence. One woman had been homeless for nearly five years after working for more than 30 years. A family affected by unemployment and a disabling health condition was moved into an apartment. PADS served 1,398 individuals and 138 families that included 236 children. This was a 29 percent increase in families and 30 percent increase in children from last year. PADS gets the children enrolled in school and gets the family into a health care system so they don't have to continue to use the emergency rooms.

As was reported in the Boston Globe, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless did a recent count one night and 150 individuals were sleeping outside. The total number of homeless was 1,000 compared to 850 last year. Advocates say they need over 400 more beds to meet the demand of the winter season. And it goes on city by city, state by state; we are all counting those sleeping outside and the number of beds we need to take care of the underprivileged.

Now that the holiday season is over, many of us are suffering from compassion fatigue. We showed kindness, consideration and care to those in need from Thanksgiving through Christmas. It's a New Year and we need to move on with our lives. The homeless, the poor; they can't move on like the rest of us. Here is a link to over 3,000 homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Find it in your heart to click on the link and help in your community. Or go to the Facebook page of DollarDays where we are giving away 1,000 Marc Gold blankets to non-profit organizations in need this January, so please nominate one you think deserves our help.

No one wants to be poor. No one wants to be homeless. As our leaders are battling in Washington about how to spend our taxes, the issues of poverty and homelessness have got to be top of mind. Our leaders need to know that we as a nation can't stand by and watch our fellow Americans suffer. Write your congressman, write your senator. Everyone needs to have a bed as we head into 2013.