With the United States suffering from a recession, homelessness has become more of an epidemic within the country, and particularly within Lane County.
“When we were better off, I could always rely on my faith…[sic] for once, I don’t know what to do. I have no answer to the questions my children ask me. ‘Mom, when do we go home?’ What do you say to that when you just don’t know? ” Said a single mother of three, who wished to remain unidentified.
The non-profit groups around the United States who challenge the problem of homeless often deal with the two-headed dragon like causes of homelessness: the difficulty of acquiring funding for their crusades, and the effort to obtain and build low-income housing for the people they help.
A recent Lane County Health Services Homeless count pegged the number of homeless individuals at four thousand, as compared to last year’s figure. There have been countless stories told of people becoming homeless due to mental illness, poverty, and/or financial issues.
Homelessness and poverty are undeniably linked and according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, in 2007 the percentage of the United States population that had lived in poverty – during that year alone – registered as 12.5%, or roughly 37 million people. Over the course of the last three years, that percentage has increased to 13.2%, equating to forty million people.
Additionally with the economic downturn and increase in both unemployment percentage and foreclosure rate percentage, 10.4% and 20% respectively; there is fear that the already hampered homeless advocacy groups and charities will be flooded with a new wave of poverty stricken individuals and family as a result of the poor economy. Similarly, the recently mentioned homeless count showed that the number of homelessness had risen 48% percent within the last year.
The second reason for homelessness is mental illness, which comprises roughly 30% of all homeless persons. Mr. Adrian Richards is an example of that statistic. Growing up in Minnesota, at the young age of twelve, friends and family praised him for how quick and intelligent he was, but they also noticed something different about him.
“I was told I had a high IQ but people thought I was strange,” Richards stated, remarking on many of his early memories. The investigation into – as the family described it – “the queerness” wound up with Mr. Richards being diagnosed with multiple mental disabilities when he was a young adult.
Often, the mentally ill and homeless individual is unable to obtain adequate help for their mental condition. They are frequently arrested for some mere nuisance violation and subsequently either sent to jail or to mental health treatment.
“There’s a large number of them with mental health issues” Said Robert Rogers, Safe Haven Director. “They come in and we work with them, trying to get them to deal with their mental health issues as much as they can.”
Another issue that many non-profit and advocacy groups are currently facing is the inability to obtain funding to pay for their various services, programs and housing. Many organizations rely on State and Federal funding to run their entire operation, but for those groups, the state of available money has been a telling tale.
These same groups that tend to lean on State and Federal funds have found those financial resources either near gone or non-existent. Additionally, non-governmental funds, such as grants, loans, and estate or will bestowments, have also dried up.
“Fighting homelessness with the way things are currently economically…it looks for the foreseeable future like an oasis in the middle of the desert,” Says Anne Williams, Housing Programs Director for Saint Vincent De Paul of Lane County. “It becomes similar to a tooth and nail fight.”
A third problem that many homelessness fighting organizations, specifically one like Saint Vincent De Paul, face is the struggle to either purchase or build low-income housing for homeless individuals and families.
Saint Vincent De Paul for example currently has fifteen low-income housing projects in place and several waiting in the wing to begin. The problem that they are facing comes down to either funding, or regulations.
As previously mentioned, funding for the homelessness fighting and homeless advocacy groups is scarce. According to Anne Williams, “The cost of building low-income temporary or permanent tends to be somewhat cheap, but when you start adding on requirement after requirement, it becomes costly.”
State and federal regulations and requirements, she claims, increase the cost of obtaining and renovating or building housing projects. This means then that these groups require more funding, and the projects take a longer time to finish. This forces scores of homeless families and individuals to wait.
There are alternatives for homeless individuals and families when it comes to finding a place to stay; temporary housing, missions, shelters, and hotels offer convenient places to stay for those who have some form of income. Several organizations whose projects have stalled work with their clientele to find and pay for these opportunities.
According to the evidence available, homeless is growing and resources are decreasing. For people like Mr. Richards and those who are part of the groups fighting it or advocating for the homeless, the struggle against homelessness is very much a challenge. For Mr. Richards, especially, homelessness was life.
Now, recovery is.