Lately, cities across the United States have been making mixed progress on the issue of homelessness, Cincinnati included.
Just last month, Phoenix, Ariz., announced it has officially ended homelessness for veterans. Almost 200 chronically homeless veterans have received housing since 2011. Phoenix was racing Salt Lake City for the accomplishment, and Salt Lake City completed its initiative this month. Both efforts are part of a larger federal project to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.
That’s the good news. On the other hand, tens of thousands of people have been forced into homelessness since the 2008 financial crisis. According to statistics published in 2009 by the National Coalition for the Homeless, 23 American cities reported an average increase in homelessness of 12 percent between 2007 and that time.
Furthermore, New York City has alarmingly high statistics for homelessness in terms of total numbers and newly homeless persons. For the first time in three decades, the city has more than 50,000 homeless persons, including over 21,000 children. Last year, homelessness grew 19 percent in the Big Apple. Some have claimed the number of homeless children is comparable to Great Depression-era statistics.
The picture looks bleak in many regards, though hopeful in some. I don’t believe it’s going to get prettier, especially with a very white Christmas this year.
Before I came to college, I never thought anything about winter weather. Snow? An inconvenience. Frost? I just need to turn on the heater in my car. Jacket weather? All you gotta do is watch the news in the morning and you can be prepared. Until I was living in a city, it never occurred to me that weather actually affected people. It affects people not just in their clothing choices — if they have significant choices in the first place — but rather in their health and well-being.
Put another way, its tough enough to be homeless these days, and the weather doesn’t improve anything.
Cincinnati is not a friendly city to the homeless. Homelessness has increased 150 percent in the past 15 years according to Brother’s Keeper, Inc., one nonprofit serving the Greater Cincinnati area.
Last year complicated things, too. In September, Hamilton County announced that Cincinnati’s homeless would no longer be permitted to sleep in or near public buildings, including the Courthouse, Justice Center and Library. The Drop Inn Center also announced it would be moving from its location on 12th street, where it has been since 1978, to the West End in coordination with 3CDC — Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, who heads up the majority of revitalization efforts in Over-the-Rhine — “to find the right location for us to fulfill our mission to those we serve.”
Add in a polar vortex and temperatures low enough to burst pipes in the Commons, and we have a nasty situation. One homeless man told me that the cold this week was “the kind that turns your hands red.” Not temperatures, but sensations.
The most unbelievable facet of this is that no one seems to think it merits discussion. The media only devotes noteworthy stories to noteworthy people. Most of us duck our eyes whenever we see a homeless person in public, me included.
When the polar vortex wreaked its havoc a few weeks ago, Fox News decided to talk about the state of the Global Warming debate. Most other news sources didn’t do much for the discussion on homelessness either. Actually, mainstream media seemed to be talking about everything except the issue.
Fifty years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. As Jim Luken said in this week’s Streetvibes, Cincinnati’s street newspaper published by the Coalition for the Homeless, “the war is over. Who would have thought that 50 years after the war on poverty was declared, it would be the poor who would still be the losers?” If anything bespeaks the regression we’ve seen in the past decade, perhaps it would be how ignored the Occupy Wall Street movement was, or how long it took President Obama to address income inequality — six years, for the record. Or maybe the statistics speak for themselves.
The point I want to make is that no matter what the facts indicate or even how homeless people choose to speak for themselves, that will not solve the problem. Nor will federal money. The problem will be solved through what corporations call human resources.
That is to say, people will solve homelessness. It starts in little ways, like using people-first language. That doesn’t get people indoors from the extreme weather, but then again, neither does shifting your gaze. We ought to move beyond the current debate, which hinges on whether it is a homeless individual’s fault for being homeless in the first place.
If we care about homelessness and those who live in that situation, then it really doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It only matters that we fix it.