Monday, April 21, 2008

Home Is Wherever We Hang Our Hats

Unfortunately, because most of our hat racks were imported from countries no longer willing to do business with us, we find ourselves holding our hats and scratching our heads. Having no place to hang our hats, we have entered a national housing emergency. Or perhaps it's not that simple.
A recent report from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) tells us that over a five year period 3% of the population of this country will experience at least one night of homelessness. Should that seemingly small percentage happen to become homeless at the same time, eight million people will be looking for a safe place to sleep.
There was a time when explanations for homelessness could appear -- at least at first glance -- simple: Mental Illness. Drug Use. Financial Irresponsibility. Sometimes Plain Old Bad Luck. Those of us secure in our homes could look out curtained windows and feel a special exemption from those ragged, dirty, frightened souls who clearly were at least partly responsible for their plights.
Recent events have surely left us dwindling numbers of snugly housed fortunates sweating in our Barcaloungers. Families are the fastest growing homeless population soon to be followed by the homeless elderly. At least five percent of the youth in the country will be at one time or another -- before they enter adulthood -- homeless. In California about two million working families have incomes well below the federal poverty line. In addition to not earning living wages, more workers in California are less likely to have job related benefits than they were a generation ago. Since everyone knows that 'as goes California so goes the country' we see the horrifying reality that more and more of us are living from paycheck to paycheck with limited financial reserves to deal with crisis such as unemployment or illness.
Homelessness can now be seen as a plague of horrific proportions from which no one is exempt. Renters who lose their homes because the owners went into foreclosure frequently must give up their pets. The Boston Globe recently highlighted the Salem, New Hampshire, Animal Rescue League for its efforts to find new homes for animals tearfully surrendered by those unable to move to new residences or to cars or to streets with their pets.
If home is wherever we hang our hats, the solution to homelessness is not to stop wearing hats nor is it to manufacture more expensive hat racks. The solution to homelessness is as complicated as the etiologies of homelessness.
Perhaps an important first step for the seemingly secure is to internalize on the deepest level possible the fragility of shelter and the speed with which the housed can become the homeless.

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