|I see them each day on streets near my home. Over the years, I have spoken to quite a few, though not enough. My interactions with these individuals were invaluable; they and their stories have become part of me. I will share anecdotes in this treatise.
In retrospect, I fear the ample coverage of problems aboard overwhelmed me. I think it the reporting was vital, though as my missive on World Refugees, incomplete. I need to correct my error. I want to be more expansive and open. I need to place the mirror where we can all peer into it. I invite you to reflect with me.
Currently, according to by the Urban Institute approximately 3.5 million persons in America have been homeless for a significant period.
This number equates to one percent of the population. Among these are 1.35 million children. In New York City alone, more than 37,000 of these homeless individuals stay in shelters each evening. Of these sixteen thousand [16,000] are children.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness states
Homelessness does not discriminate. Families with children, single adults, teenagers, and elderly individuals of all races can be found struggling with the devastating effects of homelessness.
The primary cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. Over 5 million low-income households have serious housing problems due to high housing costs, substandard housing conditions, or both.
The Economic Policy Institute offers more sobering facts.
• Twelve  million adults in the United States currently are or have been homeless at some point in their lives [National Coalition for the Homeless].
• One of the largest and fastest growing groups of homeless folks are families with children. They are approximately 40% of the homeless population, mostly with single mothers as the head of the household.
• On average, a homeless family has 2.2 children [Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD].
• Anywhere from 25% to 38% of homeless people are children [National Coalition for the Homeless, Urban Institute].
• 33% of homeless men are veterans [HUD].
It is likely, these numbers are inaccurate. They may be very low. The actual figures are probably higher. Homeless people, even those only on the verge, anticipating what might come, tend to hide. They do not feel safe.
Paranoia can set in when people shun you, when they look away at the sight of you. When the majority, of individuals within a "civilized" society, consider you disgraceful, and they say this to your face, you are not likely to feel free when you are among them. Few homeless persons have any desire to be noticed or counted. The gathering of statistics does not serve the dispossessed and destitute. Numbers collected and stored in databases do not provide for the needs of the needy. People living on the streets realize no benefit from tallies. In truth, there are plenty of repercussions.
I know this from experience. I cannot recount my life as a homeless person; I hope I will never be able to, though I fear, as I think many quietly do when considering the topic, "That could be me."
Years ago I was distressed by what I saw as a growing situation. It seemed to me that more people were down-and-out. I lived in the area of the country known for its wealth, Orange County, California. Yet, everywhere I turned there were homeless people. Some were asking for a handout, others were looking for a helping hand. Most were offering to work. A few were working for whatever change might be given.
I found this disquieting by what I saw as the greater depression. I was a student at the time and realized I could create a project that documented what I saw as the "Greater Depression." I set out to interview the indigent population in my area. I planned to videotape, audiotape, and photograph individuals as I interviewed them. I first approached a man I saw on a busy highway, Brookhurst Street. He held a sign asking for work; I requested an interview.
A friend of mine was with me holding a very small video camera. As he saw us move toward him, he smiled. Once he noticed the camera, he covered his face. I spoke to him of my project and requested his permission to document our conversation. This gentleman assured me, he was open to the dialogue; however, he wanted no recording of this. He expressed his fear that his daughter, thousands of miles away, living in New Jersey might discover his plight. He had been homeless for years; yet, he never told her. He was discomfited enough without her knowing.
The soft-spoken man, a human being of greatness, spoke of his loving wife. In year's prior, he had been a successful man, a person of prominence and position. He owned a home, right there in Orange County. In this moment I do not recall whether it was in Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, or another suburb close by. I remember his face, his story, and the sorrow with which he shared these, more vividly than that detail.
His wife became ill. It was cancer. She was sick for quite some time and needed care. He wanted to be by her side, to help her. Years passed, bills mounted, insurance did not cover all the expenses. Finally, after a long and hard-fought battle, her body left this Earth. He missed her. He lost much, his love, his lifeline, his home, and his own health. Now, he was only seeking hope. I sigh as I recall this man, his misery, and his kindness. I am grateful that he spoke with me.
I walked on. I went to Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. There I stumbled upon two gentlemen, lying in the grass. They did allow some photographs to be taken though none came out well. We discussed their situation. Fountain Valley had been good to them. What they found in trash-bins was worthy. The park was pleasant. They too had their hardships. They had lost hope and found comfort in the life they had. For years, they had sought work. Bathing, being presentable, finding transportation, all were barriers to their success. They spoke of how people assume drugs or alcohol were the cause for homelessness. As they recounted their stories they assured me, for them, nothing was further from the truth.
Then I went to downtown Santa Ana, just outside of the courthouse. A woman quickly drew near. She feared for my safety. She too was indigent. She wanted me to know as she knew, this was no place for a white woman with a camera, even a male accompaniment could not save her if the situation got tough.
My friend and I roamed the streets. Most allowed us to photograph them. Some were too sleepy to engage us. Others offered their anecdotes. All were very kind. Most were sick and tired; the time without creature comforts took a toll.
Some of you may have read of my more recent experience with a homeless man and how he helped me to remember the importance of man's humanity to man. I fear too often we forget. We do not want to see, hear, or experience what we create, ghettos, slums, and places unfit for survival.
Since earliest childhood, I theorized this is why, in America, we build freeways. We do not wish to see our inner cities. The general-public does not want to know how those on the other side of the tracks live. Citizens in this, the richest country in the world, prefer to hide the poor, the impoverished, the ill, and the homeless behind walls of concrete where they will not be seen or heard from.
Americans have hidden what they prefer not to see since early in our history. The industrial revolution gave rise to a greater acceptance of blight; as cities grew, so too did man's inhumanity to his fellow man. However, the damage caused by the Industrial Revolution is nothing in comparison to that done during the Regan Revolution and beyond.
Former President Ronald Reagan was a man known for fantasy. Author Gary Wills wrote of this in his all too obscure biography, Reagan's America. Reagan imagined his childhood, youth, and service to his country to be the ideal it was not. Ronald Reagan, single handedly created a homeless population that was never seen or imagined before.
Carol Fennelly, Director of Hope House in Washington says,
In fact many homeless rights activists say the single most devastating thing Reagan did to create homelessness was when he cut the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by three-quarters, from $32 billion in 1981 to $7.5 billion by 1988. The department was the main governmental supporter of subsidized housing for the poor. Add this to Reagan's overhaul of tax codes to reduce incentives for private developers to create low-income homes and you had a major crisis for low-income families and individuals. Under Reagan, the number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 24.5 million in 1978 to 32.5 million in 1988.
And the number of homeless people went from something so little it wasn't even written about widely in the late 1970s to more than 2 million when Reagan left office.
As the rich got richer under Reagan, the poor became increasingly poorer. The mentally ill did not fare well under the Reagan Administration. Social Services funding was cut. After Reagan, left office little improved. When speaking of the then dire dilemma of homelessness, George Herbert Walker Bush declared the budget was tight, the deficit deep, and "We will turn to the only resource we have that in times of need always grows--the goodness and the courage of the American people."
The American people were not ready, willing, or able to cope with their own circumstances, let alone help the homeless. Corporations had other priorities, their profits. Nothing trickled down. The situation worsened. Under Clinton, the economy improved; funding for programs to help homeless increased. There were great strides. Still, once people slid into the abyss and suffered. Recovery is slow, living on the streets takes a toll..
Under George W. Bush, the bludgeoning began again; the destitute took a severe beating. The National Coalition for the Homeless offered this report Bush Budget Leaves No Millionaire Behind As He Proposes Massive Cuts To Programs For Homeless and Low-Income People, stating,
On February 6th, 2006, President Bush sent his proposed $2.77 trillion FY2007 budget to Congress. His proposals would cut $600 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a 1.8% decrease from the FY06 appropriations; and funding for Health and Human Services (HHS) discretionary programs would decline by $1.6 billion.
While the President's proposed budget does increase funding in some areas, the Homeless Assistance Grants increased by $209 million and Housing for People with AIDS (HOPWA) saw a $14 million increase, it makes these increases by making reductions in other programs for low-income people, not by finding new resources.
The homeless situation is subverted easily. American society tends to blame and shames the victims. they feel no responsibility for their plight. Then and now, people think the homeless are strong single males that simply do not wish to work. They believe these individuals are strung out on drugs or booze. They think them hapless, helpless, and of little value. Most Americans look away when they encounter the dispossessed or down-and-out. They do not move towards these people.
Few citizens within the United States know the destitute are as they are. They are our mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. Many have served this nation well. They have protected us during times of war. Some are afflicted with a mental illness. They all need our help.
As people, we love lending a helping handsome will raise a barn for our neighbors, as long as we know them or feel as though we might. Katrina brought some movement. When we saw our neighbors in New Orleans destitute, we were devastated. We acted on their distress for days
Popular television programs such as NBCs The Today Show, invited Habitat for Humanity to build houses on their sets. Donations poured in from people across the states. The Red Cross was flooded with contributions. Sadly, little help reached the people. However, once the limelight dimmed and these people became as other homeless were, out of the public eye, everything went back to the status quo out of mind out of sight.
The public no longer saw the need of their neighbors; they saw the scruffy, unkempt, and disheveled standing there with their hands out. The news changed. Talk of larceny, theft, aggravated burglary filled the airwaves, and once again, the poor were the source of "our" pain.
Americans are often heard to say, "God or man, helps people that help themselves." In the minds of many of our countrymen, people must appear "presentable," "respectable," and "savvy" before they are willing to assist them further. We want our neighbors to look like us. The homeless may have at one time; however, when we encounter them, they do not. Therefore, we look away when we are in their company.
Instead, we like to speak of refugees abroad and feel badly. We express a desire to reach out, some actually do work to assist those in other nations. However rarely, do we help those residing in our own house, the dispossessed in America.
We do not want to look in the mirror; we fear seeing what we could become. Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck. A small catastrophe could wipe us out, physically, emotionally, or financially. Intellectually, we know this; however facing this scares us. We rather not and therefore, we don't.
When we observe a homeless person on the street, most of us will look away. We do not wish to think about what we accept in America; nor do we wish to see what we create. It is too painful. If we focus on refugees in lands far from our own, we will not have to ponder what we know to be true, "That could be me!"
I invite you to look, to learn, to listen, and speak with a homeless person in your neighborhood. Get to know them as people, as individuals. Let them tell you their story and realize, that you can make a difference. Together we, as a society can change this situation. If we choose, we can, again, care for our neighbors. We as a nation can and "ought" to establish policies that prompt man's humanity to man. After all, our forefathers wrote "the Government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people." Let us do as the founders proposed. Let us secure "the enjoyment of life" for all of our citizens.
Organizations That Help The Homeless . . .
• Stand And Be Counted! American Homeless Society
• Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, American Bar Association
• Homeless, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
• National Health Care for the Homeless Council
• Homeless.org, Affiliated with Grassroots.org
• Community Partnership for Homeless
• Help the Homeless Program Fannie Mae Foundation
References That Touch The Topic of Homelessness . . .
• Homeless In America Incorporated
• World Refugee Day. What Does This Mean To U.S.? ©. By Betsy L. Angert. Be-Think June 20, 2006
• Florida Homeless People Find their Voice CNN News. Aired January 6, 2001
• Why is Homelessness an Important Issue? National Alliance to End Homelessness
• Economic Policy Institute
• Homeless in America Washington ProFile
• 'Talk to America' Looks at the Plight of the Homeless, Voice of America
• Florida Homeless Beating Caught on Videotape By Eric Weiner. Day to Day, National Public Radio. January 13, 2006
• Who is Homeless?, National Coalition for the Homeless
• Homeless Children: America's New Outcasts. The National Center on Family Homelessness.
• Homeless in America, By Raven Tyler. NewsHour Extra December 11, 2002
• Homeless in America, By Bernice Powell Jackson. Witness for Justice. May 13, 2002
• A Day in the Life of the Homeless in America, By Sharon Cohen. The Associated Press. Truthout. Sunday 27 February 2005
• National Alliance to End Homelessness
• Reagan and the Homeless Epidemic in America, By Carol Fennelly. Democracy Now. Friday, June 11, 2004
• The Reagan Legacy, The Nation. June 10, 2004
• Reagan in Truth and Fiction, By Alexander Cockburn. The Nation. June 10, 2004
• Reagan: man of contradictions? By Andrea Mitchell. NBC News. June 8, 2004
• Celebrating Reagan the man, not the myth, By Joan Vennochi. Boston.com News. June 8, 2004
• Reagan's America, By Garry Wills
• Ronald Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill: Capital, Interest Groups, and the Eclipse of Social Policy, By Alexandar R Thomas. Electronic Journal of Sociology 
• Inaugural Address of George Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush. January 20, 1989
• Millions Still Face Homelessness in a Booming Economy, The Urban Institute February 01, 2000
• Scapegoating rent control: Masking the Causes of Homelessness, By Richard P. Appelbaum, Michael Dolny, Peter Dreier, John I. Gilderbloom. The Economic Policy Institute. October 1989
• Bill Clinton on Welfare & Poverty On The Issues. September 6, 2000
• Bush Budget Leaves No Millionaires Behind as He Proposes Massive Cuts To Programs For Homeless and Low-Income People The National Coalition for the Homeless. February 2006
• Helping America's Homeless, By Martha Burt, Laudan Y. Aron, and Edgar Lee, with Jesse Valente. Urban Institute Press
• Most Americans Misunderstand Homelessness - Poll The National Alliance to End Homelessness. May 24, 2006
• Press Secretary Tony Snow Cried. He and I Touched Humanity. © By Betsy L. Angert. Be-Think May 24, 2006
• Back from Iraq - and suddenly out on the streets, By Alexandra Marks. The Christian Science Monitor. February 08, 2005
• 'Heart of America' to 'Make a Difference' NBC News. October 19, 2005
• NBC News "Today," Habitat for Humanity International and Warner Music Group are joining forces. Habitat for Humanity International. September 20, 2006
• Red Cross Gets Surge in Katrina Volunteers, By Russ Bynum. Associated Press.
• Fraudulent Katrina and Rita Claims Top $1 Billion, By Larry Margasak. Associated Press. Washington Post. Wednesday, June 14, 2006
• `We all need to treat the homeless a little better' By Michael Mayo. Sun-Sentinel. May 21, 2006