Homelessness on the Rise

Posted on December 15, 2011 by

One of the biggest headlines in the sunshine state this week is that we are among the 10 worst states in the nation with respect to the number of homeless children within our borders. From the Florida Independent:

According to a report released today by The National Center on Family Homelessness, Florida has one of the worst rates of child homelessness in the country.

In a ranking of one (best) to 50 (worst), Florida ranks 42nd in the nation. About 84,000 children in Florida were homeless in 2010, a report (.pdf) from the group says.

The recent state budget crisis and resulting cuts are being targeted as part of the reason the homeless can’t receive the help they need:

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed  $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” The item was one of many public assistance programs Scott vetoed.

Florida faces another revenue shortfall this year, which puts all public assistance programs at risk for more budget reductions.

“In the face of this man-made disaster, there must be no further cuts in federal and state programs that help homeless children and families. Deeper cuts will only create more homelessness that will cost us more to fix in the long run,” Bassuk said in a statement included in the new report. “We can take specific action now in areas of housing, child care, education, domestic violence, and employment and training to stabilize vulnerable families and prevent child homelessness.”

Last month, Florida’s child homelessness epidemic received national attention. 60 Minutes shed light on the issue and took a hard look at a county in Florida that reported 1,100 homeless students in its K-12 schools.

Because our family spends a fair amount of time each month serving in a local homeless shelter, this topic is one that I have been following closely.  The phraseology “man-made disaster” stood out to me. And I wondered how the founder of the National Center on Family Homelessness concluded that budget cuts contributed to increased homelessness among Florida’s children. From what we have witnessed during this calendar year, I do believe that there are more homeless children in Florida now than there were in 2008.

Additionally, and I concede that this is largely anecdotal, we have witnessed that the number of homeless men is exponentially larger than the numbers of homeless women and children. One of the most startling changes I’ve witnessed in the past year is the number of young and non-minority men who show up for meals at the shelter where we serve. When we started a few years ago, I estimated that roughly 1 to 2 in ten of the men we served were white and even a few Asian.  Now, I’d easily put that number at 3 in ten, many times 4. The number of younger men seems to have climbed significantly as well. As an aside, I wonder if the noticeable dearth of Hispanic men in a state so heavily populated with Hispanics is due to their greter sense of family cohesion.

Increasing  numbers of the men we serve do not appear to be what most Americans envision when they consider the homeless: dirty or bum-like. There are always those but there are also increasing numbers of men who do not fit that bill. Because our church’s ministry to the homeless is focused primarily on men, we’ve have had fewer opportunities to witness how the demographic plays out among women and children at our shelter, but we have had some opportunities and nothing tugs at the heart strings like the sight of a three-year-old in a soup line.

Except maybe seeing and talking to someone you graduated high school with.

While I understand and appreciate the need for state funding to help keep these agencies afloat, I wonder where the church at large is on this issue. The Protestant church in particular because the Catholic church is known for its outreach to the less fortunate.  I just wonder.  About a lot of things.

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