As I walked the hilly streets of San Francisco, the blustering winds and the chill in the air made my breath catch in my throat. Trying to inhale the icy air into my lungs, my breath faltered again, this time due to the sights surrounding me. Everywhere I looked there were homeless men and women on the streets. Some of them had raggedy coats and jackets, some torn blankets, and some little more than a T-shirt. I looked at their craftily worded signs, more than just “Hungry. Please help.” There were all kinds of creative messages like “spaceship broken, need parts.”
While tourists and locals alike were being mildly entertained by these signs, I couldn’t help but wonder how and when the homeless problem in San Francisco had gotten so extreme that there was now an art to making a living on the streets.
According to the State of Homelessness in America 2011 report released by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, higher homelessness in places like San Francisco, California, could be attributed to high rates of cost burden among poor households. “California, Florida, and Nevada – states known to have been disproportionately impacted by the recent housing crisis – have both high rates of homelessness and high levels of unemployment, foreclosure, housing cost burden, lack of insurance, and doubling up.”
In fact, “ten of the fourteen states with rates of homelessness greater than the national rate also have levels of cost burden greater than the national average.”
Of course, as I searched for answers regarding the problem in San Francisco, it became clear to me that the issue of homelessness exists not only in San Francisco, but on a much grander scale throughout the nation. In fact, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “half of all states have multiple risk factors for increased homelessness; that is, they have rates worse than the national average on at least two of five indicators (unemployment, foreclosure, doubled up, housing cost burden, lack of health insurance).
On top of that, on a national level, it appears that the issue of homelessness is continuing to grow. “The nation’s homeless population increased by approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009. In addition, a majority – 31 of 50 states and the District of Columbia – had increases in their homeless counts.”
It’s clear that with recent economic factors such as rises in unemployment and increases in foreclosures, more and more people are finding themselves left out in the cold and with nowhere to go. When thinking about these statistics, I can’t help but wonder about all the people who are on the verge of ending up in this situation as well, hanging on to their homes by a thread. How many people throughout the nation are living paycheck to paycheck? How many people are one unexpected financial crisis away from also finding themselves out on the street? Despite new programs offering government assistance, there are still literally thousands of people who need assistance and are not yet receiving any.
As I ponder all of this and remember those urban city streets with all those people left out in the cold, I can’t help but think to myself “there but for the grace of God, go I.” It reminds me to be grateful for what I have, and to express that gratitude by providing assistance to those in need when I can.
(all quotes were taken from http://www.endhomelessness.org)