Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Everyone Needs to Eat -- Entry for January 29, 2008

My siblings and I grew up in relative poverty. We often moved with our parents to various migrant camps and housing so they could pick whatever vegetable or fruit was ready for harvesting. We lived in places that had outhouses and no indoor plumbing, and others that were miles from the nearest city. It would be easy for me to romanticize this period of my life, but it was not romantic. It was hard. We finally stopped moving when I was in 3rd grade.

Despite our limited means, we rarely knew hunger. My mother is a very resourceful woman. While we were migrants, we had the fields of vegetables to eat,and when we lived in rural places like the northern border of Washington state, my stepfather would hunt for live game. When we settled down in Santa Maria, CA, my mother changed tactics. When we did not have enough money to buy groceries, we would wake up before dawn to search for cans. I can remember those mornings and her starting up the Ford Ranchero so clearly. There is a different feeling to a house before dawn. We would pile into the truck and hit all the major dumpsters in our neighborhood and beyond. To the Lucky's Supermarket (now a discount mall), to the empty lot behind Wimpy's Liquor and across the street from Taco Bell, to the dumpsters near my classmate Theresa V.'s house. Sometimes my mother would stand in the dumpster and throw cans out to us that we would crush and toss in the back of the truck, other times we would all root around in the trash to find them.

My feelings about the enterprise were always mixed and volatile. I hated doing it. I was so afraid that someone I knew would see us and thus plunge my already absimal schoolyard status even lower. I would not only be the stuttering, loner, nerd, but the stuttering, loner, nerd who digs through other peoples' trash. But I was also proud of my mother. We would fill the back of the truck and get $30 to 40 dollars for our efforts -- enough to buy staples like rice, beans, and flour to make tortillas. We always had full dinners.

So when I read this article about the poor in Haiti, I remembered my mother, digging for cans, and growing up poor. There was no comparison. The very poor in Haiti eat a mud cookie made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening. So many eat these "cookies" 3 times a day. I have never been this poor. My children will never be this poor. I want to help so bad. I wish I could send my food over there to help the girl Charlene in the article. They cannot go and collect cans like we did.

Please visit this The Hunger Site and click on the Big "CLICK TO GIVE" icon, or the link following my blog. Sponsors of the site donate the equivalent of 1 cup of food for each click. Add it to your favorites and when you are bored, sit there clicking for a few minutes. It will help so many people. If you want some alarming statistics on how much food is wasted in North America and Europe, visit stopthehunger.com, with the references included.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Homelessness in America - Entry for January 23, 2008

Homelessness is a social problem that needs to be fixed -- not only to help the homeless individuals and families involved, but to reduce the strain they pose to our cities and charity providers. Although there are several reasons why people become homeless and stay that way, it is up to society to take action and reduce the numbers of homeless people in America and enable people to get rehabilitated so that they do not become homeless again. Currently, a large part of the homeless problem is that people are not aware that there is a homeless problem and so do nothing to help or stop homelessness. They assume that homeless people are homeless because they do not care about getting a job and solving their problems, and many times, this is not the case. Without society being aware of the homeless problem, they will not be able to influence those in politics and in local governments to enact change.

What is Homelessness?
Most people think that homeless people are bums and panhandlers. Wikipedia defines homelessness as a situation in which a person does not have a long term place of ongoing residence, usually in cities or suburbs. Homeless people are demeaned in the media, ridiculed, and often the victims of hate crimes. But the truth of the matter is that homeless people aren’t just bums and panhandlers that sit on park benches or city streets, wear filthy clothing, or living in boxes, they are also people forced to live in their cars, with family members, in tents and makeshift camps, and in shelters.[1] In the United States, it is estimated that 41% of the homeless are single men, 40% are families, 14% are single women, and 5% are youth.

Why Do People Become Homeless?
People become homeless for several reasons. In Helping America’s homeless: Emergency shelter or affordable housing?, most authorities on the subject of homelessness say that poverty is the proximate cause of homelessness, the second are that wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Other problems are the lack of health care and supportive services (mental health/substance abuse); inadequate shelter systems (lack of beds and permanent addresses); prison release and homelessness; veterans and homelessness; youth homelessness; and violence (spousal abuse, physical and sexual abuse at home).

Twenty-two percent of homeless people have mental problems that have not been diagnosed. They should be in institutions, and in fact, many were but were subsequently released because of lack of psychiatric facilities and beds.

Why Do People Stay Homeless?
The reasons people stay homeless are very similar to the reason why they become homeless: when they look for help, it is not there. There are estimated to be 3.5 million homeless people in the United States. With that quantity of people looking for help, most cities do not have enough resources to house the homeless people they have. For those who cannot find shelter and their needs are unmet, they are often criminalized for not finding a place to sleep or sleeping on city streets or public land. In many cities, homelessness is actually a crime.[2]

According to Homeless.org, when homeless people try to find jobs, they have a hard time because they do not have phone numbers and other contact information. Sometimes their work history is lacking, and they might not have references. The children of homeless people often have a hard time staying in school because they do not have a stable living environment, they are hungry, they get sick because they do not get the proper medical treatment, and some children cannot get into school at all because they do not meet residency requirements.

How Can We Fix the Homeless Problem?
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions but there are preventative measures. A solution would be to raise the national minimum wage and regional minimum wages to help the poor who are on the verge of becoming homeless afford housing. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there is not a single jurisdiction in the country where a person working full-time earning the prevailing minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom rental apartment. If people cannot support themselves, even with the lowest jobs, then they will not be able to rise out of or prevent homelessness. Another solution is to provide private donor, federal or state subsidized low-income housing, or at least provide a tax incentive for developers to include at least 25% low-income housing in their projects. Most shelters cannot meet the needs of the homeless people, so there has to be a way to allow other public lands to be used to house the homeless on a temporary basis and within a certain time period. But most cities do not want to be the one that allows homeless people to live where they want. In those cities, they can open public halls and fair grounds for the night, with adequate restroom facilities.

In Pasadena, the Pasadena Police Department and the LA Department of Health have partnered to form the Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation Team. The program created three teams of mental health and law enforcement officials to provide compassionate assistance to persons in need of mental health assessment and services.

Cities around the country have started realizing that you have to understand why someone is homeless before you can change it. Individually, do not ignore what your eyes can see. Homeless people are not invisible. Volunteer to serve them food. Pass out blankets. Change will start when we are aware of the problem and push for action.


Burt, Martha R., Laudan Y. Aron, and Edgar Lee. “Helping America’s homeless: Emergency shelter or affordable housing?” Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute. 2001

Guzicki, Melissa, Manuel Manrique, Carolyn J. Tompsett, Paul A. Toro, and Jigna Zatakia. "Homelessness in the United States: Assessing Changes in Prevalence and Public Opinion, 1993-2001" American Journal of Community Psychology: Springer Netherlands, March 2006, p.47-61.
Homeless.org. http://www.homeless.org/


Homelessness – Causes and Facts,” Chicago Coalition For The Homeless: Chicago, 2006

Hubbird, John. “What Homeless Problem,” Dignity Virtual Village: http://www.outofthedoorways.org/articles/eugene.html, 2002.

Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes And Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness, 2005.” National Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/index.html

A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities” National Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/index.html

[1] According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors the homeless population is diverse: 20% work; 22% are mentally disabled; 11% are veterans; and 34% are drug or alcohol dependent. (Homeless.org)
[2] The National Coalition for the Homeless’ report, “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” they cite that this trend includes measures that target homeless persons by making it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities in public. These measures prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces, usually including criminal penalties for violation of these laws.