This Week at Media Voices we turn our attentions to a complicated issue that affects 1 in 50 children in America, 1.5 million children a year, homelessness. One third of the national homeless population is families with children and 650,000 of those children, last year, were under 6 years of age. These babies become the prisoners of adult poverty, often the results of a parental health crisis, unemployment or the tidal wave of home foreclosures that have swept the country in the last 18 months. Last week, the Obama Administration announced the first-ever Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent Homelessness 2010 and there is cause for renewed optimism that we can make dramatic progress towards ending homelessness in America.
Nineteen federal agencies that span the nation’s housing, health, job, education and human services worked together to form the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness working in partnership with organizations and communities across the country that have found successful approaches to ending family homelessness.
The film tells the story of three communities, both urban and rural, that have made dramatic and rapid reductions in family homelessness by adopting specific interventions in prevention, rapid re-housing of families who are in shelters, targeted services and, most importantly, tracking the results with hard data so that we can see what’s working and what’s not. I know that data seems like a rather boring part of this issue, but in fact it’s important to know what’s effective and what’s a waste of time and money. For example, I learned from the film that 90% of homeless families that have been removed from the shelter system and given a chance at having their own permanent housing stay in their homes. I also came to appreciate the reality that the majority of these homeless families work. Usually, it is when income is disrupted, either as a result of a lost job or chronic illness – mental health issues often play a big role here – a family will be forced to move, lose their lease, double-up with friends, sleep in their cars, abandoned buildings, public space, move into shelters on just wander the streets with their kids in tow.
For the children, the results of homelessness are disastrous. One in nine will have asthma-related health conditions, one in six will have emotional problems, fewer than one in four will finish high school and 22% of these children will be separated from their parents.
The 25th Article of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights declared that “everyone has a right to housing.” Failing to house a child, for even one day, is a failure of our society that should be considered wholly unacceptable to all of us. The Obama administration deserves credit for undertaking the work of reviewing and creating a real national plan of action, for all homeless Americans. The Plan also addresses our veterans whose service to our country can often have negative impacts on their families that lead to homelessness. Imagine losing the primary bread-winner in your household to multiple tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, or seeing your father or mother struggle with injuries, physical and emotional, as they re-adjust to civilian life. Children in these families share the same remarkably difficult stresses as their parents.
Any examination of the homelessness phenomenon shows us, once again, that small investments in families can have very positive results, especially for the children. When we help a family find a home and stabilize their lives, we are returning people to work, raising tax revenues and actually reducing the assistance they’d otherwise need for years to come. Each year, the homeless children who quit school, will forfeit almost 230 billion dollars in life-time earnings. That’s a lot of human productivity going to waste. So while it makes economic sense to extend our hand to our fellow Americans experiencing hard times, the real reason is much simpler than that- we’re all connected to each other and we’ll rise or fall as a society on the basis of how we treat our children, for they’re wholly dependent on us to look out for their interests.
Also this week at Media Voices, we continue our examination of business supply chains by examining child labor in the soccer ball industry. Kilian Moote, of Free2Work, has provided some background on the problematic history of children stitching soccer balls in his blog, Soccer Fever, which arrives as the World Cup finals approach in South Africa. Business and profits are booming for soccer ball manufacturers but wages and labor conditions remain poor. Free2Work has examined ten manufacturers and rated them according to their policies and practices to eliminate child labor. So, before you purchase a soccer ball, take a few minutes to do your homework. Why not buy the ball made by adults instead of one that was stitched by a poor child.