Op-ed by Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq. (Ret.)
I like animals! My busy daily schedule prevents me from having a pet, but I like animals. Considering the joy and happiness they bring members of my family and friends, it’s difficult not to like them. My concern extends to the abandoned, abused, and unsheltered animals, especially during this season when many commercials air asking for donations to support them.
I like animals, but I am more concerned about the thousands of Americans who live without the security of a home, and who, for practical purposes, live in conditions as bad or worse than those of animals. Looking at homelessness through my “glass half-empty” lens, I see an issue of immense proportions growing at an ever-increasing rate. I commend generosity, but I think that too many Americans diminish the severity of the problem because of the gifts they give at stop lights while driving or as they pass spots where pedestrians are solicited for help.
This may ease their distress of seeing another human living in circumstances the individual donor feels intolerable, but reality demands that we realize that the problem of homelessness will not be remedied one gift at a time.
Like everything else in our society, the collection of homelessness data has been affected by the COVID pandemic. 2020 was the last year in which comprehensive data was available.
Current statistics commonly reflect limited data when compared to that of 2020. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness on our streets and in shelters in America. Most were individuals (70 percent), and the rest were people in families with children. They lived in every state and territory, and they include people from every gender, racial, and ethnic group. Decision-makers are especially concerned about children and young people due to their developmental needs and the potential life-long consequences of hardships in early life.
People in families with children make up 30 percent of the homeless population. Unaccompanied youth (under age 25) account for six percent of the larger group. Additionally, individuals with disabilities have also: 1) been continuously homeless for at least a year; or 2) experienced homelessness at least four times in the last three years for a combined length of time of at least a year. Chronically homeless individuals are currently 19 percent of the homeless population. Finally, veterans represent six percent of people experiencing homelessness.
Recently, the issue of homelessness was illuminated in historic proportions. Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color elected to the Office of US Vice President administered the oath of office to Karen Bass, former US Congresswoman and first female mayor of Los Angeles. Ms. Bass focused her inaugural remarks on her plans to solve the city’s housing crisis.
Approximately 40,000 people live on the streets, and innumerable other “Angelenos have no choice but to crowd multiple families into one home, and to work multiple jobs just to barely pay rent” Bass said.
She added, “Tragically, our city has earned the shameful crown as being home to the most crowded neighborhoods in the nation.” She said her first act as mayor would be to declare a state of emergency on homelessness. As a former resident and frequent visitor to Los Angeles, I see its problems as representative of homelessness problems across the nation. The cause of the problem is as individual as those who suffer from homelessness – unaffordability, unemployment, physical or mental disability, or a myriad of other issues.
I commend Mayor Bass. Her recognition of the depth of the problem and placing its resolution in high-priority is the only pathway to solving the problem. Her approach serves as a model for other public officials.
~ Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of The Dick Gregory Society (thedickgregorysociety.org; firstname.lastname@example.org) and President Emeritus of the National Congress of Black Women.