What Do We Need? Shock Therapy?

Slow to catch onto what’s killing us…

I knew it when I first heard about it — 30+ years ago. Soaring housing prices on both the East and West coasts meant the rest of the country would follow the trend. From 30 years ago (part of me wants to laugh)…

The median sales prices of an existing single-family home in northern New Jersey now stands at $194,000, more than two and a half times the national median sales price.

Along with high prices that are causing the dream of homeownership to recede for many hard-working families, our state is suffering a severe shortage of affordable rental housing. (NYT, Feb.12, 1989)

Now when people in the middle of the country lament the tight housing market and the skyrocketing cost of renting apartments, I just sigh.

I’m not a researcher or social scientist. I’m a former shelter director (1987-2003) and a homelessness advocate/activist. For the past 14 years I’ve been living in a van, traveling the country to chronicle (video) families and youth experiencing homelessness. My nonprofit — HEAR US Inc., www.hearus.us.

Of late, I’ve been researching and writing a book on family homelessness with a colleague, Professor Yvonne Vissing. The only reason I’d ever consider writing a book is to fill a huge unmet need. Writing a college textbook that’s also reader-friendly is the kind of challenge we both relished, and we know it’s needed.

Can’t believe this wasn’t a word before I coined it.

I find a lot of things dismazing about US homelessness.

  • We have no idea of how many people are homeless. I see it every time I read an article citing absolutely inaccurate stats, like this, by a reputable source like the Nation:

The national numbers are scandalous. On any given night, more than half a million homeless men, women, and children sleep on the streets or in shelters.

Really? Half million? Where did this number come from? HUD reports to Congress using their dubious Point-in-Time (PIT) count, based on a faulty process one-night count that misses the bulk of the homeless population. The 2018 count, 553,000, AHAR report, that also includes a bizarre claim — that…

…the number of people experiencing homelessness in families with children continued to decline, by two percent between 2017 and 2018, and by 23 percent between 2007 and 2018. In 2018, more than 180,000 people in families with children were experiencing homelessness…

  • Or this, in a memo (2/8/19) from the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, “…25 percent decline in homelessness among families, youth, and children, including a more recent 2 percent decrease between 2017 and 2018.” Decline??

What’s so bizarre is that a more accurate report was issued about the same time by the US Department of Education that stated a record number of homeless students was identified for roughly the same time period. (Read the small print.)


For the past several months as I’ve been working on the family homelessness book, I’ve spent more time being infuriated at our national stupidity. When are we going to not only pay attention to all of us being pushed to the streets, but maybe even raise a Molly Ivins-style ruckus about our need for decent, affordable housing?

Jimmie Tobias wrote a provocative piece for The Nation exploring this very same topic:

While progressives have pushed forcefully for immigrants’ rights, universal health care, fossil-fuel abolition, and a living wage in recent years, they have given short shrift to human shelter. There is no equivalent of the Fight for $15 when it comes to housing — and prominent political leaders speak far too little of rising rents, eviction rates, and homelessness. During the last presidential election, the issue was almost entirely missing from the public debate.

Someone might wonder what rising homelessness has to do with the rising cost of housing. It’s trickle-down. When the middle class are shoved out of their previously affordable rental housing by rents that are jumping by double digits, we might start grasping we’re on the bad side of a growing catastrophe.

The vulnerability of household finances underscores a persistent misconception that homelessness only happens to drug addicts and people struggling with serious mental and developmental disabilities, experts say.

“It’s really because the cost of housing has far outpaced what an average person in Massachusetts can afford, especially low-income families and individuals,” said Kelly Turley, associate director of the Coalition for the Homeless. (PatriotLedger)

That same article points to astronomical rent increases that have upended housing stability. Rent increases nearly 55%!

In Quincy, where apartment rents have gone up nearly 55 percent since 2009, renters are under pressure and spending more of their income to cover housing costs.

Yeah. So unless we bend the ears and twist noses of the bevy of presidential candidates, and do the same for our esteemed Members of Congress, we might as well start packing up our precious belongings and getting ready to find a nice quiet spot in the deep woods, before it gets too crowded.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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