Archive | PATH_ Poverty Insights
Latest items syndicated in from PATH_ Poverty Insights (http://www.povertyinsights.org/) related to homelessness.
When I think of poverty in a global sense, I imagine slums like the shantytowns of Nairobi or the favelas of Sao Paulo. I see rickety shacks precariously hugging dirt hills and sad-looking children drinking dirty water.
Never would I imagine that America’s two largest cities rank among the top five cities worldwide with the largest homeless populations. Los Angeles is ranked third, just behind second-ranked New York City.
Manila, the capital of the Philippines, holds the top spot with the largest homeless population in the world. The important distinction between cities like Manila and those in first-world countries is that poorer nations don’t have the resources to house their homeless citizens.
Wealthier countries, like America, do.
What does it say when the United States—which has enough funds to build a house for every single person in the country, never mind every person who is homeless in New York City and Los Angeles—allows its citizens to languish on the streets?
If I were living in Manila’s P. Casal District, one of the city’s poorest districts, I would probably not be nearly as resentful as I would be if I were a homeless person living in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, California, overlooking million dollar mansions.
Imagine sleeping under the bushes next to a home that could comfortably hold several dozen people. Imagine being homeless in a country that spends more money invading other countries than on making sure its citizens have somewhere to live.
When those of us working on the front lines of homelessness look to provide hope for the people we serve, we typically assume their hopelessness is rooted in living on the streets. But I think part of that hopelessness, at least in America, is caused by the knowledge that our country could end their homelessness at any time. If I were homeless today in Los Angeles, I would feel rejected and isolated from a society that has turned its back on me.
How could you not feel cast off when society puts the blame for homelessness on the victims? You’re just lazy. You’re an addict. You’re crazy. Get a job! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!
Where is the compassion? We only seem to be able to convince this country to invest in addressing homelessness by appealing to its business sense. By saying, “it costs more to leave a person on the street than to house him.” Then those that blame people for being homeless are forced to address homelessness because it is better for the economy.
Who cares about the actual people living on the streets? Money is the most important.
Maybe that attitude is the reason the richest country in the world has two of its largest, most renowned cities on the list of cities with the highest homeless populations.
Not a proud distinction.Continue Reading
Years ago, when I first became the leader of a small homeless agency on the Westside of Los Angeles, I used to start my presentations to the community by saying, “It could happen to you.”
“It” was homelessness. And “you” was the average middle-class American who was just one paycheck away from becoming homeless.
Back then, most people entering homeless shelters were similar to you and me. Then they lost their jobs, struggled with substance abuse, or fled from domestic violence. They burned bridges with family and friends. Finally, there was nowhere left to go but a homeless shelter.
Back then, we were able to help them resolve their issues, find jobs, and get back into an apartment fairly quickly.
Today, homelessness is very different. Many of the people living on the streets are struggling with serious mental health issues and/or substance abuse. Helping them move back into permanent homes involves much more than just providing job training and a few words of encouragement.
A decade ago, the case managers at PATH were more like peer counselors. And, at the time, that was sufficient to help the people we served.
Today, we have more than 100 case managers with postgraduate degrees and/or experience in high-needs populations, mental health, and substance abuse counseling. This high level of support helps us meet the needs of the people we serve, many of whom are dealing with multiple barriers.
Although the needs of the people we serve have become more intensive, one thing hasn’t necessarily changed. Ironically, they often still come from middle-class America.
I often receive emails or phone calls from people that knew me years ago. But they are not contacting me just to reconnect.
They are calling because someone close—a brother, a daughter, a parishioner, a partner—is struggling with mental health issues or abusing some substance. The family has done everything in their power to love them, get them help, and support them. But now this family member or friend is about to become homeless or, sometimes, is already living on the streets.
Some of these callers I knew decades ago, and some of their families are very well off. After talking on the phone or responding to an email like this, I’m always a little shocked. Even I, who have seen so many people struggle with homelessness, am surprised that Jill, or Bill, or Jesse is homeless.
It reminds me of my presentations to the community decades ago. But today, I would start by saying, “It could happen to them – your family and friends.”Continue Reading
A movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour is sweeping the country. Cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, have voted in favor of the increase. Los Angeles has now followed suit.
During the decision-making process, local jurisdictions have struggled to balance the need to raise their lowest paid workforce’s economic status with the desire to protect small businesses (who depend on that very worker being paid minimum wage).
Raising wages certainly makes sense, especially when the cost of living is skyrocketing. Take Los Angeles, for example. A worker needs to earn $33 per hour to rent an average apartment in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles plans to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. If that wage level were implemented in 2015, the average household would need more than two employed persons in order to afford a typical apartment.
I wonder what apartment rates will be in 2020? Will a Los Angeles household need three or four wage earners to afford an apartment?
Of course, many business leaders think the economic market should dictate wages, not the government. Unfortunately, during this recent economic recovery in America, the income of the wealthy has increased far more than those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. When the top 20% of American households own 84% of this country’s wealth, there is certainly a problem.
In other words, a “free” market favors the wealthy.
With strong ties to the labor movement, Los Angeles’ recent move to adopt increased wages is not a surprise. An amendment to this city’s wage ordinance, however, brought a different twist. Several nonprofit agencies, which help the city’s unemployed and impoverished population access low-end wage employment opportunities, pushed back. They contended that a minimum wage increase would reduce the number of people they could assist.
The amendment provided these agencies with an exemption. It was a win that could help a greater number of people access work. It was also at the expense of ensuring that people have enough earning power to access housing.
Most nonprofit organizations operate like small businesses and will struggle with the mandate to raise employee wages. But agencies with a mission to address poverty and homelessness should not compromise their mission by keeping their staff wages low.
It is ludicrous to think that agencies battling poverty would reinforce a “working poor” status within their own employee ranks.
Even larger nonprofit agencies will struggle to meet this new wage standard. In the agency I lead, we calculated that we would need to raise an additional $140,000 per year, if we were to raise the wage this year.
But if we are to stay true to our mission of ending poverty and homelessness for individuals and families, we simply cannot endorse a working poor salary. So, we have decided to raise our lowest salaried workers to $15 per hour within two years—this year starting at $13.25 per hour (Los Angeles is mandating a five-year timeframe).
This commitment, to paying people a wage that will keep them housed, places greater pressure on our agency to raise more funds. But we have to do this.
Because antipoverty agencies should not pay poverty wages.Continue Reading