Sunday, October 5, 2008

Many more families will be homeless this year

A reporter called me tonight to get a local angle on an AP story the paper was running. How is the foreclosure crisis affecting families? And is it true here, as it is in Boston, that the family shelters are full and that families are once again being placed in motels? I made a few phone calls around to confirm what I already knew and got back to him. We're in a world of trouble.

More than 2,000 families are homeless in Massachusetts today, and more than 500 of them are staying in motels-- a practice which had been mostly discontinued under Gov. Romney and which flies in the face of current Gov. Patrick's plans to drastically reduce homelessness in five years by focusing on housing. Federally, the Bush Administration is hip-deep in a strategy to end homelessness in ten years; locally, Springfield's "Homes within Reach" program intends to mirror the state and the federal government's strategies and successes.

Mostly these plans give lip service to the economic underpinnings of homelessness but their strategies focus on treating homeless people as if they had a personal problem rather than a political problem. One would think that the solution to homelessness is a home, but no new housing has been created in many years.. Add in the fact that many people don't have sufficient income to stay housed and you have the poor people shuffle: from apartment to shelter to a friend's to an apartment and so on. Still, Springfield and other cities were making incremental progress in housing some "chronically homeless" people and were starting to think seriously about family homelessness.

But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and with the storm waves from the foreclosure crisis just beginning to reach us, much of the progress is swinging back to a loss. People's incomes are stagnant or falling and what we pay for food and utilities keeps climbing. I'll venture to say that in six months we will have a crisis of homelessness that cannot be concealed. We need visionary solutions but instead many will be moving into survival mode.

Hardly an original question but one that deserves a deeper answer: how can full shelters and empty building exist in the same city?

Photo from Thomas Hawk's photostream at Flickr

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