July 11, 2013: After 30 years in the field of family homelessness, working continuously both locally and nationally, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to read newspaper and other online media reports such as this one posted recently in the Los Angeles Times: Fresh ideas to help the homeless (Editorial – July 5, 2013). While the vast majority of readers will glance at the editorial and agree whole-heartedly with its content, this reader instead just feels sad…. These ideas are not NEW! They are NEW only to people who have paid little or no attention to the issue of homelessness as an entrenched social problem in the U.S. for 30 years! Many of us have been addressing the issue on a daily basis for more than two decades thus far, promoting these “fresh ideas” – and this includes not only the dedicated and committed advocates and activists, but also the thousands of “first responders” who work directly with the men, women and children “on the streets” of our rich country every day.
So of course I am sad. I am sad and angry at the same time – because these solutions that we know work, i.e. housing that is affordable to individuals and families at the lower levels of the socio-economic scale and community safety-nets to catch people in crisis before they fall deeper into the pit we have dug for them – are elusive and out-of-reach to the very people we write about. They are out of reach because of the lack of leadership at the highest levels, political will and partisan fighting. Add to this subtle but entrenched racism and classism and what you have as a result is “increasing homelessness in America” and editorials insisting that what we need are “fresh ideas.”
Of course, while the focus of the news articles is often on “the homeless,” which in itself does a great disservice to educated readers who can’t help but think immediately of the homeless men (and some women) we all see each day on the streets of our big cities, it seems that few editorials are willing to address the greater issue: that of increasing family homelessness (read “infants, toddlers, school-age children, adolescents, and primarily their single mothers trying desperately to raise their children alone”). It would be nice to see an educated and truthful editorial or Op-Ed article about the true tragedy of homelessness in America – that the needs of families with children have been over-ridden by the issue of “chronic homelessness” = i.e. “the homeless” we think of immediately when the subject comes up. I’m not advocating that we choose one group over the other….Instead, I am angry that we have.
Tanya Tull, ScD, President/CEO – Partnering for Change