"Honey, I know that it is below zero and we are long ago divorced, but why don't you stay on my couch for this week because I still care about you and don't want you to die." This may be the reason the numbers released in the latest HUD report do not match reality. For the last two years, HUD has released numbers for a count that took place at the end of January showing declining numbers of homeless people. Both years, the count has taken place during the coldest weeks in the Midwest and mid atlantic states. It is no mystery that the counts decreased over the last few years, because Americans are not cold hearted mean people. We take people inside if it is bitterly cold. We put people up on our sofas or basements if it gets too cold, and then those individuals suddenly and magically disappear from the count of being homeless in America.
Pam Fesler continues her quest to explain the unexplainable to Americans on NPR with another series of stories about homeless people. Fesler's eventual goal with her stories are to eventually answer the question: how do we have so many people without housing in a country of such wealth? A few cities were like the New York Times story that the hometown is bucking the trend with higher numbers. Cincinnati reported the same. Many papers wrote about the decline, but very few of the stories talked about how flawed the numbers are or that this is a one day number so what does that mean for a year? If homelessness is only short term state with average length of stay between 19 days and 55 days as in Cleveland, how does one cold day in January mean anything? What trend could ever be established by counting homeless people one day out of 365? Even the Al Jazeera story did not mention how crazy counting homeless people was in the United States and they are usually pretty good about pointing out the obvious flaws in American culture and how the media fails to see the forest for the trees.
NPR also looked at the devestation that is known as Skid Row this week. In an effort to comfort Mayors throughout the United States, NPR did another story which could be headlined: "It could be way worse look at Los Angeles...or you think you have problems at least you are not Mayor of Los Angeles...or lets try declaring an emergency to see if that will work because nothing else has." What happens if you declare a state of emergency and no one cares? Will a future disaster declaration be ignored because we are now calling homelessness a disaster? Did the victims of Superstorm Sandy get timely help after New York and parts of New Jersey were declared disasters? Did the Katrina disaster declaration make New Orleans whole? I am not sure what this trick will do much for homeless people in Los Angeles. There is no interest at the federal level of spending more money to help homeless people, so what does this do? Local officials have announced $150 million for affordable housing from the local community. In a huge city like Los Angeles with a huge population of homeless people and after years of neglect of the social safety net and affordable housing stock, $150 million will not make one bit of difference. Housing is so expensive to build and maintain especially in the Los Angeles area, and we need a "moon shot" or Eisenhower building the highways type goal from the federal government to begin to show results. Fighting this city by city with small allocations is a losing battle that will only lead to long lines and a great deal of frustration.
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