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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Economics

WorkingPoorCover

Continuing on through the nonfiction books of the Fulton County Public Library, I arrived in the Economics section. This category encompasses broad topics such as labor economics, financial economics, economics of land and energy, cooperatives, socialism, public finance, production, and macroeconomics. Since there is no way I could possibly cover all of those topics in one blog post I’ve chosen to concentrate on the first two-labor economics and financial economics.

The recession that hit around 2008-2010 affected many middle class families causing hardship. Many were forced into underemployment or unemployment. Of those who were able to return to work many were unable to get a full time position or a job that paid anything but poverty wages. Most lost insurance and other job related benefits such as retirement packages. Millions of Americans now fall into a category known as the Working Poor. In 2013 this is what that looked like:

working poor 2013

Although there have been some improvements in the economy in the last 3 years, many former middle class families still can’t make ends meet. Even with minimum wages increasing in some areas (and minimum wage going up at least $1 since the graph was made),  millions of full time, hard working Americans with families still find themselves living at or below poverty level wages.

working poor pictogram

Often people are forced into working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Many of the books I read in the Economics section focused on this issue. Even more alarming are the number of households headed by women raising children alone and the number of married women who are the main bread winners in their families but still making considerably less money than men doing the same job. The work world tends to discriminate against women with children. Particularly noteworthy books that I read dealing with these subjects follow.

The Betrayal of Work

 

This book, The Betrayal of Work by Beth Shulman, does an excellent job of describing the dead end cycle that many American families find themselves caught in. Shulman follows several full time, hard working people and describes the sorts of conditions they must deal with on a daily basis.

Selling Women Short Selling Women Short by Lisa Featherstone is a book detailing reasons for a class action lawsuit (Dukes v. WalMart ) which exposes many labor and ethical violations in the retail sector. After reading this book,  the reader will have a new appreciation for the need for change in the American workforce.

Overwhelmed Brigid Schulte does a remarkable job in Overwhelmed Work, Love, and Play  When No One  Has the Time of exploring the balance (or lack thereof) that many people (mostly women) experience between work and leisure time. This is especially an important work when one considers that in many cases women must work extra hours just to make up pay differences or split shifts due to needing to take care of children. Although a rather long read, this book has many important points to make and is well worth the time.

About the time I was reading these books, I was handed the following new addendum at work; author unknown.

Employee Handbook

Sick Days

We will no longer accept a doctor’s statement as proof of sickness. If you are able to go to the doctor, you are able to come to work.

Personal Days

Each employee will receive 104 personal days a year. They are called Saturday & Sunday.

Lunch Break

Skinny people get 30 minutes for lunch as they need to eat more so that they can look healthy. Normal size people get 15 minutes for lunch to get a balanced meal to maintain their average figure. Fat people get 5 minutes for lunch because that’s all the time needed to drink a Slim Fast.

Dress Code

It is advised you come to work dressed according to your salary. If we see you wearing $350 Prada sneakers and carrying a $600 Gucci bag, we assume you are doing well financially and therefore do not need a raise.

If you dress poorly, you need to learn to manage your money better so that you may buy nicer clothes and therefore you do not need a raise.

If you dress in-between, you are right where you need to be and therefore you do not need a raise.

Bereavement Leave

There is no excuse for missing work. There is nothing you can do for dead friends, relatives, or co-workers. Every effort should be made to have non-employees attend to the arrangements. In rare cases where employee involvement is necessary, the funeral should be scheduled in the late afternoon. We will be glad to allow you to work through your lunch hour and subsequently leave one hour early.

Restroom Use

Entirely too much time is being spent in the restroom. There is now a strict 3 minute time limit in the stalls. At the end of three minutes, an alarm will sound, the toilet paper will retract, the stall door will open and a picture will be taken. After your second offense, your picture will be posted on the company bulletin board under the “Chronic Offenders” category.

Thank you for your loyalty to our great company.

We are here to provide a positive employment experience.

 

Although I read many books pertaining to financial economics there is one that I favor above all others. It is The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.

The Total Money Makeover

Dave Ramsey has a common sense, no nonsense approach to money that will benefit anyone.  As he says in his book, it doesn’t matter if you make $20,000 or $200,000 a year this plan will work for you. My husband and I have taken on this particular challenge and we are seeing immediate results. Mr. Ramsey first attacks some financial myths and then redirects areas of thinking. He lays out a basic plan in which participants work their way through 7 baby steps. In my opinion this should be required reading for everyone. Dave Ramsey has literally helped thousands of people improve their financial situations.

 

 

Social Sciences

twister group

The next category of the Dewey Decimal System explores a very wide array of social categories and systems. This section is so broad that I will need to split it up for comment. Today I’ve chosen to comment on the first two Dewey subcategories of Sociology & Anthropology and Statistics.

In the beginning of the 300 section, there are many books about specific groups of people. I read about what it takes to have great relationships, a whole generation of Millennials, the Red Hat Society, women in general, the poor, and people trapped in dead end jobs (aka the working poor).  Books with numbers from 300-309 make up the Sociology and Anthropology books. I’ve chosen to mention just a small  representative cartload of books in this category .

Cart Close Up

Brief comments in Dewey Order follow:

The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships by David Niven, Ph.D:  Sharing simple secrets of great relationships, this book claims  to share what scientists have discovered and tell you how to use those discoveries in your own relationships. A quick read, the book has some interesting secrets.

The Millennials Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer : This was a very positive and informative book about the millennial generation. I was born pretty much on the dividing line of the Baby Boomer/Millennial generation. In some ways I’ve always felt I have a foot in both generations and it was interesting to me to see how much of the overlap is significant to my life. Additionally I have a tadpole who is a Millennial and it is interesting to see how her world differed from mine growing up. I have read other things about Millennials which basically forecast the gloom and doom of our changing world, but I found this particular book to be a refreshing, hopeful, and positive statement of the people who are taking over the next generation.

The Red Hat Society’s Laugh Lines Stories of Inspiration and Hattitude by Sue Ellen Cooper: This book pokes fun at women over 50 who do not want to grow up and still want to have some play time. It is a good illustration of  life to be lived after 50.

Fake It More than 100 Shortcuts Every Woman Needs to Know by Jennifer Byrne :This is a quick read and somewhat humorous book about women finding time to accomplish everything they need to accomplish. While many of the shortcuts are helpful, some are more tongue-in-cheek.

Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich: This book explores the fact that millions of Americans work full time for poverty level wages and can’t make ends meet for even the most basic of necessities. The author took the unique approach of going undercover and living among the working poor in order to research this topic. It is interesting to note that she herself would not have been able to make it without the safety net she kept in place for herself; a net not available to the working poor. In my opinion, everyone needs to read this book.

Real Questions, Real Answers About Sex The Complete Guide to Intimacy As God Intended by Dr. Louis & Melissa McBurney: The authors have divided this book into six sections and leave no stone unturned. This book is appropriate to engaged as well as married couples and is filled with good advice. In my read through of the library, I have come across many books on this topic and this is by far the best book of them all. I highly recommend it.

Even though I am reading through the library, there are certain categories of books that I dread reaching. When I saw that statistics was one of the Dewey categories, I was rather dreading it. I did not enjoy statistics in college! As it turns out, the statistics category has been shrinking in most libraries and I found only 3 (!) books  numbered from 310-319.

Statistics Books

These books have been moved to the Reference Section of the library. As these actually are used as reference books, there isn’t much “review” to be done. Instead I will just comment that the probable shrinkage of this category of books is due to the Internet and information being readily available. This type of information could change by the time statistical books are published. You can probably surmise by these surviving books that Fulton County Public Library is located in a rural area of Indiana.