21st April 01:03
Homeless And Starving In The Land Of The Free
Friday, 1 August 2003, 9:47 pm
Column: Jay Shaft
US Homelessness and Poverty Rates Skyrocket While Billions are Spent
Overseas on Occupation
By Jay Shaft
Coalition For Free Thought In Media 7/31/03
As I watch far away images of body bags being filled, I see much closer
images of bodies. I went by a local park the other day and it looked like a
concentration camp crossed with a mass murder scene.
There were people in rags and covered with filth lying scattered all over
the place. At least twenty people were on crutches, had parts bandaged, or
with open wounds not even covered. They were all hungry and a large
majority were sick.
All around this city I live in, and nation-wide, the level of homelessness
and poverty is growing alarmingly. From the last counts and estimates
nation-wide, there has been at least a 35-45% increase in homelessness and
poverty. The increases have come over the last two years with the biggest
increases being in 2002 and especially in the first six months of 2003.
Add to that the barely subsisting or borderline homeless/poor, and we start
to see a very alarming trend that shows no sign of going away. Over 30% of
Americans are on the borderline of poverty. A lot just do not quite make
the cut to receive food stamps or some kind of benefits and live on a razor
edge of desperation and starvation.
I have talked to people that run food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless
shelters. Places like Day Star, Catholic Charities, St, Vincent De Paul,
and many other major support agencies. They all tell me they have seen a
vast increase in people that would starve or be without clothes if not for
The most shocking sight to see is homeless and starving children, living
right near some of the richest neighborhoods!!!!! Right here in
"humanitarian" America, home of the worlds largest "humanitarian" and
"liberating" force (or is it FARCE?).
This country is putting more and more of our citizens on the brink of
homelessness and desperate poverty. In addition, it seems that we have
pushed countless others over the brink and into the bottomless pit of
despair and need. All you have to do is look around, open your eyes, and
you will see the vast sea of hungry and destitute.
I have seen more and more children and families out on the street or in
feeding centers and at food handouts. To think that the world’s richest
country allows this to happen is sickening! To think that we turn a blind
eye to starving children because it is easier to tolerate than do something
We cannot afford to hire teachers, build new schools, or even maintain the
ones we have. Our children slip farther into the void of illiteracy and
neglect. We are the lowest among the industrialized "first" world nations
in literacy scores! Many "third" world countries now have higher literacy
rates than the U.S.
We are setting ourselves up to turn the world’s richest country into a
third world quagmire. This country is sinking into a swamp of drowning poor
and so-called "Economically Challenged!” The rich meanwhile buy bigger
S.U.Vs (self indulgent ubiquitous vulture mobiles), and bigger gated houses
to keep out the flotsam and detritus of the cast aways.
Homelessness Reaches New Levels
3.5 million people, 39% of them children, currently experience homelessness
every year. 60% of all new homeless cases are single mothers with children.
Recent studies suggest that the United States generates homelessness at a
much higher rate than previously thought. By its very nature, homelessness
is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. More important than actually
knowing the precise number of people who experience homelessness is how to
go about ending it.
A growing number of cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta,
are criminalizing activities of the homeless, according to the National
Coalition for the Homeless. More than 60 cities are introducing measures to
make it illegal to beg or sleep on the streets, to sit in a bus shelter for
more than an hour, or to walk across a parking lot if the person doesn't
have a car parked there.
In 2002 the US Conference of Mayors reported a 19% increase in shelter
requests due to homelessness in 25 surveyed cities. Requests for shelter by
families increased by 20%.
On average 30% of all requests for shelter went unmet in 2002, with 38% of
requests by families going unmet. In 60% of the reporting cities, emergency
shelters had to turn away families due to lack of resources, with 56%
reporting they had to turn away other homeless people.
People are remaining homeless for at least 6 months on average with 82% of
cities reporting an increase in the length of time people are homeless.
There has been a 40% increase in the Berkeley, California homeless
population over the last two years. New York City has reported a 42%
increase over the last two years, Boston a 37% increase, Los Angeles, CA a
47% increase, San Diego, CA 41%, Washington, D.C. 39%, Seattle, WA. 43%,
Portland, OR 36%, Chicago, IL 47%, St. Louis, MO 34%, Atlanta, GA 40%,
Tampa, FL 46%, St. Petersburg, Fl 45%, Miami, FL 49%, New Orleans, LA 41%,
Phoenix, AZ a staggering 56%, with most other major cities reporting at
least a 25-30% increase over the last two years.
41% of all homeless are single males, 41% families, 13% single females, and
5% being unaccompanied minors. The homeless population is estimated to be
50% African American, 35% white, 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, and 1%
An average of 23% suffer from mental illness, 38% suffer from substance
abuse, 10% are veterans, and 22% are employed.
Over 40% of homeless persons are eligible for disability benefits, but only
11% actually receive them. Most are eligible for food stamps, but only 37%
receive them. Most homeless families are eligible for welfare benefits, but
only 52% receive them.
Published reports suggest that most homeless families with children are
headed by single women between the ages of 26 and 30 who have never been
married and have two children. According to one study, homeless women are
significantly more likely to have low birth weight babies than are similar
poor women who have housing.
Lack of affordable housing leads the list of causes for homelessness, with
mental illness and lack of needed services, substance abuse, low paying
jobs, domestic violence, unemployment, poverty, prison release, down turn
in economy, limited life skills and cuts in public assistance being the
other top reported causes.
The average wait for public housing was 19 months; the average wait for
Section 8 certificates and vouchers was 21-23 months. 45% of cities have
stopped taking public housing applications in at least one assisted housing
program due to extensive waiting lists.
The other group sometimes considered homeless is the precariously housed
population. People who are precariously housed are in danger of becoming
literally homeless because they have no place of their own to live or their
current housing situation is tenuous. This group includes, among others,
people who are doubled up... those who are living for short periods of time
with friends or relatives and thus lack a fixed, regular nighttime residence.
Children often appear among the precariously housed population because
parents who become homeless may place their children with friends or
relatives in order to avoid literal homelessness for them. Because some
individuals and families choose to share housing as a regular, stable, and
long-term arrangement, distinguishing the precariously housed from those in
stable sharing arrangements is difficult.
President Bush claimed that his FY2004 budget "helps America meet its goals
both at home and overseas." Yet, upon examination of the budget numbers,
the goals of many Americans appear not to have been included.
At a time when unprecedented numbers of families and individuals are
homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, the President proposed no new
resources to meet their needs. His budget maintains funding levels for most
homeless assistance programs; levels so woefully inadequate that each year
record numbers of people are turned away from life-sustaining services.
In releasing his FY2004 budget, President Bush claimed "human compassion
cannot be summarized in dollars and cents." Neither, can the untold
suffering of the 1.35 million children whose lives will be disrupted by
loss of housing and health care this year, or the sorrow of their parents,
who struggle against the odds to provide stability and hope, or the
frustration and pain of those who work but cannot afford housing, or the
fear of those whose health conditions, coupled with lack of housing,
threaten their very survival.
In particular, the President's Medicaid proposal threatens to leave many
more families and children uninsured, dramatically increasing their risk of
becoming homeless due to illness or injury. Children are especially
vulnerable to losing coverage under the proposed merging of Medicaid and
the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Hunger and Starvation Increasing, Especially For Children
In 2001, the USDA reported that the number of Americans who were food
insecure or hungry or at risk of hunger was 33.6 million. In the last year
it is estimated that there has been an additional 5-10 million additional
people who are now in jeopardy of hunger and starvation. The government has
a benign description of this situation, calling the hungry and starving
The 2002 survey of 25 cities by the US Conference of Mayors recorded a 19%
increase in the requests for emergency food has risen by 19% in 2002. 100%
of the cities reported these increases. Requests for food by families
increased by 17% while requests for food by the elderly increased by 19%.
48% of people requesting food were families with children. 38% were
currently employed at the time of the request.
In 2002, 16% of all food requests went unmet due to lack of resources. 14%
of families did not have their requests met adequately.
The leading reason for hunger was high housing costs, along with low paying
jobs, unemployment and other employment related issues, economic downturn,
medical and health costs, homelessness, poverty or lack of income,
substance abuse, reduced public benefits, child care costs, mental health
problems, and limited life skills being cited as the other leading causes
I have talked to various groups doing feedings, both in fixed locations and
out on the street. All the groups I talked to said they had experienced a
30-50% increase in the amount of people seeking food and nutritional
According to America’s Second Harvest, a group dedicated to ending hunger
and starvation, one in every four people in feeding lines are children.
Over 9 million children are the recipients of food from a pantry, kitchen,
or shelter within the network of America's Second Harvest.
A survey of America's Second Harvest affiliates in late 2001 and early 2002
found that 86% had seen an increase in requests for food assistance during
the past year. I contacted them recently and they said the level of food
requests has risen even more in 2002- mid 2003.
New York City's soup kitchens and food pantries fed 45% more people in 2002
than in 2000. In the one year following September 11, 73% of the agencies
fed more children, with 39% saying the number of children they fed
America's Second Harvest's Hunger in America 2001 report found that 23.3
million people sought and received emergency hunger relief from the network
of charities in 2001. 23 million people receiving emergency food assistance
is equivalent to the combined populations of the 10 largest U.S. cities:
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Phoenix,
San Antonio, Dallas, and Detroit.
According to some surveys and partial reports for the first six months of
2003, the figure is now over 40 million people in America that have to seek
some form of daily feeding or nutritional supplementation
Poverty and Unemployment Growing at Alarming Rate
Between 2000 and 2001, poverty rose to 11.7% of the population, or 32.9
million people, up from 11.3% and 31.6 million. The poverty rate for 2002
was 13.9% equaling about 35.1 million Americans living in poverty with over
14 million of those being children. In 2003 the poverty rate is expected to
average 14.2% or 35.8 million people. (US CENSUS BUREAU)
18% of American children, almost 15 million, live in poverty, meaning their
parents' income is at or below the federal poverty level. This is about the
same number of children who lived in poverty in 1980. 8% of America’s
children, 6 million, live in extreme poverty. This is a 19% increase from
2000. The parents of these children make half the federal poverty level, or
$8,980 for a family of four. 39% of American children, 28 million, live in
low-income families. This is a 3% increase from 2000.
According to the newest figures released by the Labor Department on 7/3/03,
9.2 million people are now unemployed by adjusted figures and if you
include the unemployed who are not receiving any assistance like
unemployment compensation or Workman's Comp, the figure is 13.9 million.
Average unemployment rates in the past 2 years have risen: in 2001, the
rate was 4.8%, but jumped to 5.7% in 2002, and to 6.5% in 2003. (US BUREAU
OF LABOR STATISTICS)
57% of African American children are low-income (down 3% from 2000), 64% of
Latino (up 7%), and 34% of white children (up 3%) are low-income.
As low-income families increase their earnings, they rapidly lose
eligibility for assistance such as childcare subsidies and health benefits.
It is not until a two-parent family of four reaches roughly $36,000 a year
in income that parents can provide the basic necessities for their
children. That’s double the federal poverty level.
68% of all workers receiving help under the Temporary Emergency
Unemployment Compensation program have exhausted their unemployment
benefits before finding another job.
A survey by National Employment Law Project, "Unemployed in America,"
conducted April 17-28, 2003 also found that more than half of all
unemployed workers had cut back on spending on food and more than half had
also postponed medical or dental care.
A January 2001 report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD) found that 4.9 million low-income American households had worst case
housing needs, paying more than 50% of their income on rent, while HUD
estimates that this figure should be no more than 30%.
Following years of decline, participation in the food stamp program has
been on the rise over the past two years. In December 2002, the last month
for which data are available, 20.5 million people participated in the food
stamp program. October 2002 was the first month since March 1998 in which
the number of food stamp participants exceeded 20 million. Since its recent
low point in July 2000, participation has increased by 3.6 million people,
or 22 percent.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the current
recession began in March 2001. Between that date and December 2002, food
stamp participation increased by 3.3 million people, or 19 percent,
nationally. Participation increased between March 2001 and December 2002 in
47 states and the District of Columbia.
More than 35 states have made cuts in programs funded with TANF and
childcare block grant funds, and most of these cuts are in programs that
promote the goals of welfare reform. The cuts reflect both the exhaustion
of many states’ surplus TANF funds from prior years and the large budget
gaps many states face.
With many single mothers losing their child care, they cannot find work or
maintain adequate employment and are in extreme danger of losing their
4 Billion a month to occupy Iraq, 1.9 billion to occupy Afghanistan
America is bleeding money into foreign occupation, while cutting back on
the programs that provide a safety net for America's poorest citizens. The
military budget is expected to top $450 million for the fiscal year 2004.
The costs of occupying and improving conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan are
not even factored into the latest military expenditure proposals. The US is
pledged to rebuilding Iraq's electrical and water infrastructure at
estimated costs of $10 Billion for the electrical grid and $500 Million to
rebuild the water system and supply clean water to the population of Iraq.
While the US is committed to at least two years of occupation in Iraq and
possibly up to ten years, our own people slip into further poverty and
If the US spent just three months occupation costs, they could wipe out
hunger and homelessness completely for ten years. However, it does not seem
like feeding and sheltering our own citizens has a very high priority.
If the US took just 25% of their annual military budget, it could go a long
way to wiping out hunger and homelessness around the world. Just 10% of our
military budget spent yearly on America could give every high school
graduate a college education for four years.
It seems like it is not a priority to protect our children from starvation
and living on the streets. Our education system is crumbling and the school
breakfast and lunch programs are being slashed mercilessly.
Increasingly in America, private foundations and organizations are stepping
in to take up the slack that the government fails to adjust for. Most
charities are reporting budget shortfalls due to the government cutting
their funding and resources.
If this crisis continues, we are in danger of actually having worse hunger
and homelessness than some third world countries. The military expansion
and occupation must stop so that we can salvage our future before it is too
late to stop the landslide of poor and starving.
We must put our priorities in line with the welfare of all our citizens. We
cannot afford to neglect the children or any citizen any longer. There must
be a call of reckoning to stop this depriving of anyone their basic needs
# # # # # #
The following websites were used to research this article. They contain a
wealth of information on the current problems faced by America and the
solutions that can be taken.
- Jay Shaft, editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media -
firstname.lastname@example.org. Coalition For Free Thought In Media home:
If America's elite had any concern for the poor and downtrodden,
it would not now be wasting some 6 Billion dollars per month in
order to have its way in Iraq and Afghanistan. If America's
elite cared one iota about their duty to be guided by the
rule of law, America's politicians would be subject to the
jurisdiction of the International Court Of Justice.
America's elite lack any concern for anyone other than their
selves, political friends and immediate families. The only
way by which such odious purveyors of wanton destruction
can be made to see the error of their ways, is for all to
act on their right and duty to refuse to support a
society that would be party to mass murder.
Add your voice to reason's call. Join the Tax Refusal.
ACT ON YOUR LAWFUL DUTY TO REFUSE TO SUPPORT ANY SOCIETY
that would be party to Mass Murder.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change
the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead