Friday, March 27, 2009

More Than One Way Down

Change.org's End Homelessness blog has a sobering and revealing story about what it's like to have a serious injury and not have health insurance or any safety net to catch you. It's worth reading this very sad story as just one example of how cascading effects can send someone into the spiral of poverty, homelessness and everything that comes from this.

Recently, we were looking at the data we collect from our own clients and the social service agencies that are working with them. When clients sign up for a Community Voice Mail number, we ask them which of the following general categories they fit in (check all that apply):

Homeless
At Risk of Homelessness
Unemployed
Limited English Skills
Victim of Domestic Violence
Foster Care Participant
Parolee/Prisoner Re-entry Program
In-housing – phone disconnected
Other

In 2008, about 60% of our 40,000 clients self-identified as being "Homeless" or "At Risk of Homelessness." Of this 60%,
  • 44% selected only Homeless or At Risk of Homelessness and no other categories. In other words, 44% felt that this single category best described their situation, or was the only characteristic they were willing to provide.
  • 45% selected one category in addition to the Homeless/At-Risk grouping, with the most prominent being Unemployed (nearly 90% of those who selected a second category included Unemployed as the other).
  • 9% selected two categories in addition to the Homeless/At-Risk grouping, with the most prominent additions being Unemployed+Victim of Domestic Violence or Unemployed+Parole/Prisoner Re-entry Program
  • 1% selected three additional categories, and a small number selected four or more
What this data suggest is that our clients don't usually arrive at a social service agency just seeking help with a single problem. It's not only that they don't have a place to live, but they're also unemployed, seeking safety from violence, just out of prison and/or facing a host of other issues.

This may be obvious, and the data about the causes of homelessness usually indicate this, but it's definitely a reminder that life is a fragile lattice. A break anywhere can lead to weakness in other areas, which can eventually break as well. For our clients, it appears that homelessness is usually combined with unemployment, with the loss of a job usually preceding the loss of a place to live. Throw in domestic violence, limited ability to speak English, or even having your home phone disconnected, and imagine the impact on the totality of your life. Something to consider in our economy as more people begin to experience that first break to their own lattice, whether it's the loss of a job, foreclosure on a house, or an illness without health insurance.

The person in the story mentioned above may have ended up living in a tent, but before that he was in a hospital without health insurance. And he was on the roof in the first place because he didn't have a job.

2 comments:

Shooting Star Photos said...

It seems everyday finds new homeless faces in my small California town. I guess I'd move here to - the climate is so mild.

Thankfully I have a job (for now) and a place to stay (for now). Statistics how that most people are just a paycheck or so away from homelessness. It seems that the rich are getting richer and the poor and homeless are getting younger. It's not right, it's not fair!

I'm a photographer who wants to change the world, starting with my community.

You can help:
http://www.nameyourdreamassignment.com/the-ideas/starla/homeless-in-america-a-womens-plight/

Thank you!!
Star

PS. Thank you for all YOU do to help our friends without homes!

Community Voice Mail National Office said...

Hi Star. Thank you very much for your comment, and I'm sorry I didn't get it posted in time to help you with the "Name Your Dream Assignment" project. It's a great idea, and if you pursue it in any way and would like to share your images, please let me know.

Good luck, and again, thanks for posting.