Few conditions are less understood than poverty and homelessness. That is not to say that there aren’t myriad organizations and programs designed to reverse poverty and to address the needs of the homeless, but inevitably the conditions persist because of oppositional forces that limit the funding and attention that is needed.
This was witnessed in our own Cedar Valley as a relatively affordable appropriation of funds to acquire a building to provide a Warming Center for the 700 to 900 people who are homeless in our community every night does not have enough support within the County Board of Supervisors to move forward. To be fair, some who are reluctant are so on the grounds that such funding should come from other agencies. But, therein lies the problem. Without a comprehensive and joint effort by the community to understand homelessness and without an organized committment, the issue will perpetually be pushed off to “other agencies” and needed funds will not be met.
The marginalized community within our community continue to be marginalized. Every politician and many well-meaning citizens put their compassion on their sleeve for those who have fallen through the cracks, but when push comes to shove in the creation of city, county and state budgets, poverty and homelessness are de-prioritized. Constituents see the effect of sewer drains and better roads; they champion better schools, and even casinos to bring in revenue, but the family living in their car, whose clothes smell of sweat, are not an appealing agenda item. And what happens is that the prejudice against the down-and-out takes hold.
That is when voices rise to demean the predicament. “They are lazy, that’s why they are unemployed.” “I’m not giving my hard earned money to people who don’t want to work.” “There are plenty of jobs if you really want one.” And the coup de grace: “I know someone on food stamps who’s driving a Cadillac.”
It is easy for a segment of society to give in to the Myth of Poverty, that it is self-inflicted and that society’s role should be to toughen them up. But all of those statements above are false. There is a pathology caused by poverty that, like a novel virus, perpetuates itself from it’s own existence.
Homelessness is caused by several factors that include 1) Unemployment, 2) the Poverty Paradigm, 3) Mental Illness and lack of needed services, 4) Substance Abuse and lack of needed services, and 4) Lack of Affordable Housing. Even if you are employed and cannot pay for basic needs you can end up homeless.
It is a pedestrian analysis of those conditions that will conclude that each of those factors is self-inflicted or can be corrected with more-self discipline. Yet that analysis controls much of the debate and often infects even those who are inclined to support social services and when budgets are created they fall in line with the prejudice.
I will not pretend that I am in the trenches with Joni Hansen and others who work tirelessly with only a pittance of funding to aid the needs of the homeless, but I have spent a lot of time with people I have met at the Hospitality House in Waterloo. They are dignified human beings with a past, a present predicament, and a hopeful future. The pathology that is created from this dire circumstance erases the options that many of us have during difficult times. It is a cascading collapse of things we take for granted. How does someone get a job if they don’t have a car? Or a phone? Or clean clothes? How does someone get a good nights sleep without a bed? A vicious cycle can take hold quickly as soon as someone is on the street. Alcohol and drugs find entry in a downtrodden life.
These are not conditions to chastise, they are conditions we must address with services, patience and human power that provide shelter to begin with, food, company, direction, education, and health services.
And it all starts with funding from those of us who are so fortunate that we can take the time to read this. It starts with recognizing that this is our community and everyone within it deserves dignity and our compassion when they struggle. It starts here because “there but for the Grace of God, go I.”
And it is money well invested. I can provide testimonial after testimonial from people with disabilities, who had addictions, lost their jobs, or just had insurmoutable bad luck, whose lives were given a chance from having a bed and necessary services, and they rose above their circumstances.
Please donate to this cause. We need to raise a minimum of $100,000 to faciliate the overflow of people without beds that exists right now. Consider being generous and becoming a leader in the greater community that awaits us.
Hospitality House is a 501c3 non profit and all contributions are tax deductible. Send your donation to: Hospitality House, 1003 Mulberry St. Waterloo, IA 50703. We have a GoFundMe page, as well. The need is urgent.