August 11, 2009

Recession’s faultlines: vagabonds ‘hidden in plain sight’

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Read about the faultlines of the recession today in an LA Times report today on the new vagabonds “hidden in plain sight,” the homeless who park aging recreational vehicles at shopping mall parking lots, only to “rumble away in the morning” before they can be chased out by security guards. The report points to a federal study showing a rising number of homeless families, many living in cars and RVs. The study showed that 18 percent of the 1.6 million homeless last year were living outdoors but not on the street.

“For many, it’s their first venture into this land with no ground beneath them,” said Karol Schulkin, a social worker who works closely with the homeless in Ventura County. “It’s a shock.”

Some California towns are creating safe-sleeping programs; other are worrying about shantytowns on public and private lots.
The Denver Post this morning presents the stark portraits of six unemployed Coloradans in their own words. “I’ve been over those young people’s websites like Craigslist and Monster, and there just isn’t a lot out there right now for part time and especially for people that are older,” says a 71-year-old woman. ” I have always had a job, so this is sort of like, “How’d that happen? I don’t have a job.”

“Right now, I’ve had to take out almost half of the money that I had in my IRA, which kind of worries me because I am nearing retirement age,” says Marcos, 60. “Having to use my retirement before I retire in order to pay the bills is not good. My wife, they cut back on her hours on her job, so she’s working part time now.”

Meanwhile, a recent study by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that one in 50 American children is homeless. That is seen across the West, in places like Bakersfield, Cal., where homeless shelter workers are filling up the spaces between their cots, the Washington Post reported recently.

“Last year, we saw a 34 percent increase in homeless families and a 24 percent increase in homeless children,”   shelter worker Louis Gill told the Post. “Why do we go beyond capacity? Because in a just society, a child should not have to sleep outside or in a car.”

Gill says a resident of the Bakersfield center is likely to be a young mother with a “good, solid job and a mortgage that she just couldn’t pay.” The recession, including a surge in foreclosures and unemployment approaching 10 percent, has driven thousands of families onto the streets. The story cited a recent HUD report that found the number of homeless families in urban areas rose 9 percent this year, and by an astounding 56 percent in rural and suburban areas.

Because health care in this country is so tied to employment, it’s not likely many of these folks have health care coverage. Are they likely to be among those turning up and making their voices heard at the raucous town hall meetings members of Congress are holding this month? Unlikely.

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