Poverty and Homelessness

most homeless

Poverty and homelessness are topics that we don’t particularly like to think about or talk about, but they are also topics that we must think about and talk about. We must think and talk about these subjects right here, right in the USA and right in your state, your county, and your city. Whether we are rich and housed, poverty stricken and homeless or anywhere in between, these issues affect us all.

The recession that hit around 2008-2010 not only forced many Americans into underemployment or unemployment, it forced many individuals as well as whole families over the edge into poverty and homelessness. Most of us are aware of the media images of homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes or on park benches. We’ve seen shameful images of our vets living on the streets. We may have even seen some people standing on street corners holding cardboard signs asking for help. It is true that some people (probably a small percentage) are homeless by choice. There may even be a few people who are poor by choice. Unfortunately there are homeless people who fit the stereotypes of being homeless (addicts, mentally ill individuals, and runaways) but since the recession there has been a growing number of people dealing with poverty and homelessness who never had a choice or a chance; some are children. There is a new face of homelessness in the United States and those faces look just like you or me. These people don’t fit into the media stereotypes. There are people who through no fault of their own have ended up on the streets. Inability to find affordable housing and/or work are just a few contributing factors. There are homeless people who hold down full time jobs, but because they can’t find anything that pays higher than poverty wages, they can’t afford a place to live.

I have blogged before about aspects of poverty, so when my library reading project brought me to books on poverty, I was anxious to read them. Two of the most well known of these types of books are Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, PH.D, Phillip E. DeVol and Terie Dreussi Smith. A Framework for Understanding Poverty was written by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.

Bridges Out of Poverty Framework for Understanding Poverty

Having read both of these books, I have some mixed reactions to them. I think there is great information in these books and they are worth spending some time with. Bridges Out of Poverty was the first book of the two that I read. I found much of it quite enlightening. The purpose of the book seems to be to help professional people who come in contact with people in poverty. The author intends to help workers be better able to anticipate and serve the needs of those living in poverty. According to this information there are two basic types of poverty: generational and situational. Generational poverty is defined as at least two generations of the same family still living in poverty. Much of the rest of the book goes on to make a profile of sorts of those who are in generational poverty. Professionals who would read these books deal with those in generational poverty on a daily basis so I do understand the need to address the issue in depth. I was quite disappointed though that situational poverty was barely addressed and the author(s) appear(s) to assume that everything known about generational poverty also applies to situational poverty. While some characteristics are shared, I think these are actually two (or more) separate issues. In generational poverty behaviors and attitudes may have been actually taught by families to their children as a way of life. In situational poverty individuals are in survival mode and their needs are likely to be temporary. Those in situational poverty most likely possess the skills to get out of poverty, but need temporary assistance. In reading this book, I was often uncomfortable with blanket statements that seemed to assume that those in poverty have no skills, education, resources, or other means of helping themselves although I realize that is true for some people. With those in situational poverty likely being the fastest growing segment of those in poverty, I think the author(s) missed a huge part of the issue.

On a more positive note, there was some extremely helpful information in Bridges Out of Poverty. The author(s) talk(s) about the ability to use language and the ability to relay information as a means of helping people climb out of poverty. Interestingly those in (generational) poverty tend to use more casual language and story telling when relaying information which becomes a problem if they are dealing with agencies (social services, medical, governmental, etc) which tend to use more formal language to give and receive information. It’s as though two different languages are being spoken and the author(s) believe(s) that those in poverty should be taught to use more formal language. Conversely, people who work as intake information gatherers should also be taught about the more casual speech of those in (generational) poverty to be better able to abstract critical information. Also of great value this book identifies some “hidden rules among classes” and does a great job explaining them. By learning the “rules” and teaching them, those in any class (poverty, middle, wealth) can use them to communicate more effectively and also potentially move from one class to another. Several areas are addressed, but as an example attitudes about possessions tend to be the following:

  • Poverty-People are possessions
  • Middle Class-Possessions are things
  • Wealth-Possessions are one-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees

It is very interesting to see the differences in attitudes about other areas as well such as money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving forces, and humor.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty was disappointing to me as a reader. The information in it is good, but it is essentially the same book (but updated) as Bridges Out of Poverty.  Although the front cover says it’s a revised edition, it doesn’t say that it’s a revision of the Bridges book. I spent time comparing graphs, charts, and pictographs between the two books and didn’t find a whole lot of differing information. This was even more disappointing when I realized that the Bridges book was originally copyrighted in 2001 and the Framework copy I had was last updated in 2011. With the rising statistics of those in poverty over the years between 2001-2011, I felt the information in this book was extremely dated. Situational poverty is still not really addressed in the newer version. If I had bought both of these books in a bookstore, I would have been upset that they are the same book but don’t say they are the same book.

I searched for quite awhile for current statistics on homelessness, but the best I could come up with was the map at the beginning of this blog. I believe that this map is new enough to include both generational and situational numbers combined to give us at least an idea of how many homeless people we have in this country and where they are located. I was surprised by Hawaii’s ranking as the state with the highest number of homeless people. I was equally surprised by Mississippi’s ranking as the state with the lowest number of homeless people. (Great job Mississippi!) I am pleased that my state, Indiana, has the third lowest homelessness rate in the country.

Homeless people are in every state and many of them-especially those in situational poverty- know how to blend in and not be seen. That is exactly what The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp is about. Brianna Karp shares her true experience of homelessness.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

This book is entertaining and easy to read. The story is a true one of determination and bravery.  I had trouble putting it down. After being laid off of her job and unable to pay rent, Brianna finds herself estranged from her family and homeless. Brianna literally put a face on situational poverty and homelessness. In the process of relaying her story, Brianna addresses the many stereotypical beliefs about the homeless. After unexpectedly inheriting a truck and a trailer, Briana found herself living in a makeshift camp in a Walmart parking lot without access to plumbing, electricity, air conditioning or heat. She was one of the luckier homeless people because she at least had shelter.

WalMart Campers

Some might say Brianna was not homeless because she had a trailer. However the Federal Definition of Homeless, United States Code Title 45, Chapter 119, Subchapter I, SS 11302 says:

General Definition of a Homeless Individual:

an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and

an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);

an institution that provides temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Brianna faced her situation with intelligence and bravery. She details her daily struggles in getting her most basic needs met while searching for a job using the few resources she had retained. Her experiences have led her into her true passion, advocacy for the homeless.

I would love to say much more about The Girls’s Guide to Homelessness, but just about anything else I would say would be a spoiler and I don’t want to give away the entire story. I will just say that I have never met Brianna Karp, but I have immense respect for her. She has an ongoing website: http://girlsguidetohomelessness.com/

Also, some sites that Brianna recommends are:

Change.org http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/category/homelessness

Homeless.us – United States Department of Social Services; Emergency Shelter http://homeless.us

211 National Human Services Information & Referral Hotline http://211.org; http://211us.org or dial 2-1-1 toll-free from any U.S. phone to be connected with an operator.

National Coalition for the Homeless http://nationalhomeless.org

Homeless Blogs Project http://homelessblogs.org

The International Homeless Forum http://homelessforums.org

World Homeless Day http://worldhomelessday.org

A Gift of Hope

Danielle Steel wrote A Gift of Hope to bring attention to the needs of the homeless. Shortly after Danielle’s son, Nick, died by suicide Danielle was looking for a way to make a difference and honor her son at the same time. (His Bright Light by Danielle Steele is the true story of her son’s suicide.) She formed an outreach called Yo! Angel! in which her teams drove around the city looking for homeless people in need of winter jackets, wool hats, warm socks, gloves, and sleeping bags. Later other supplies and some food was added to the items Yo! Angel! distributed. Danielle was hesitant about sharing her activism but then later changed her mind and decided to speak out because she could voice a desperate cry for help for the homeless.

A Gift of Hope is a touching book which details how Danielle Steele and her crew first began to help the homeless, the mistakes they made, the safety precautions they took, and the unforgettable people they met along the way. Many living on the streets truly have been given hope through the efforts of Danielle and her team. For anyone interested in homelessness, I would recommend this book. It is short, a quick read, and loaded with information.

In Danielle Steele’s book she points out that the numbers of homeless at any given time are likely not accurate. She reports an abysmal process of counting the homeless (at least in the San Francisco area) in which the “counters” go out for just one night and count only those homeless that they actually see on the street. If a homeless person happens to be using a public restroom or has scraped together enough money to go get a sandwich or some other needed supply and are in a public place (restaurant, store, etc) they are not counted. Those who are homeless due to situational poverty are experts at blending in and not being seen so they are likely never even counted. According to Danielle we have more accurate counts of birds than we do homeless people. Because of the counting method used, Danielle believes the numbers of homeless people in her area at any given time can be wrong by at least 23,000. She also points out that some states have managed to lower their homeless population by “relocating” the homeless. She claims that at one point the city of New York paid for bus tickets for the homeless to go anywhere but where they were. Some of the homeless were put on a bus and sent to a neighboring state. Therefore, according to Danielle Steele, we need to be leery of the current statistical data. Are we actually making an impact on the homeless problem (which more than likely are economic, employment, health, and education problems) or are we as a society just getting better at hiding it in numbers? Are the homeless just being moved around and therefore not being counted? Are the populations of homeless people being moved actually the mentally ill who should be hospitalized? These are disturbing questions.

Have you ever been homeless? Have you given serious thought to the plight of the homeless? Are you active in trying to help the homeless? I would love to hear about your experiences.