Confronting the Abandoning Crisis…Poverty and Homelessness Beyond The Urban Core
Orange County, CA -- Here’s a staggering number - 553,000. Imagine what you would do if 553,000 dollars were deposited into your bank account today. Imagine what you can see if you travel 553,000 miles around the world? That is a significant number. The truth is that’s the number of homeless people recorded in the United States in 2018. Yes, the most developed country in the world allows a whopping 17% of its population to live on the streets. California holds a total of 113,952 abandoned homeless individuals; this represents 20% of all homeless people in the United States. Approximately 15,179 are veterans. People in this country are turning a blind eye as if this is some “new normal.” We have abandoned our neighbors, and homelessness is a clear symptom.
As President & CEO of Community Action Partnership, Orange County, an agency Southern California, I live each day fighting poverty and homelessness. In Orange County, we have over 7,000 abandoned homeless citizens, and another 300,000 dealing with food insecurity and poverty. During my career, I have encountered veterans who once fought for our country, now defeated and suffering from PTSD, drug and alcohol addiction, and hopelessness. I spoke with women who through life’s circumstances were now selling their bodies to protect themselves from being raped or killed on the streets. Children who should be living carefree, filled with hope for the future were begging for food. Finally, I saw leaders and organizations whose mission it is to serve the poor and homeless, frustrated after decades upon decades of working to provide housing and wrap-around medical and mental health services.
I still remember my first encounter on the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles over a decade ago. Like most, I had no comprehension of the magnitude of the problem of homelessness abandonment until I saw men, women, and children (yes children) who lived on the streets for years. The decay of precious lives had a life of its own, and the idea of survival had a shallow success rate. Digest this for one moment, abandoned citizens die homeless in the streets each day, but it doesn’t make the evening news - ever wonder why? Could it be because the problem is a sobering reflection on all of us?
Imagine senior citizens who live their golden years in food insecurity or children who go to bed hungry every night. Imagine the little girl who is afraid her parents will be taken away due to immigration and the Public Charge. Imagine families who don’t make a living wage and living below the poverty line and can’t afford to take their sick child to the doctor due to inequity in health care. Imagine having to decide to pay for food or your utility bill or medication for an ill family member or diapers for an infant. Just imagine…
While it has been easy to focus our attention on concentrated poverty in urban areas, we are finding more and more that poverty has no boundaries and has crept into suburban communities. The increase in poverty beyond the urban periphery, which has gone mostly unphased by many policymakers. Poverty has been growing in the suburbs quicker than in many cities. Poor suburban families face a unique set of challenges that our community-development ecosystems are not designed to address, including limited public transportation, a widely dispersed population, fewer jobs, and fewer resources to help those in need.
One of the major contributing issues to the increase in poverty in suburban areas is the lack of quality affordable housing options. Families have no other choice but to rent instead of purchase a home, and this demand drives up an already strained rental market. Families and individuals living in poverty far exceed the number of affordable units available. Moreover, while suburban areas can brag about a low unemployment rate, they still have to confront a high underemployment job crisis.
This crisis won't be solved by one organization or strategy, but instead requires a way of working that deals with the interconnected nature of issues that propel poverty, homelessness, and inequity. We need efforts of coordinated resources, integrated investments into systems and infrastructures that feed effective solutions to address affordable housing, economic and workforce development, aligned political and social justice action, and a myriad of other ways to leverage support.
As we continue to address deep poverty, we can't turn our back on cities or suburban areas while searching for solutions to the next journey of poverty. We don’t have a city problem or a suburban problem; we have a regional problem. The more cities and suburban areas can work together to confront this issue, the more we can have a collective impact to address poverty on every level. Policymakers, corporations, and the nonprofit sector must look beyond their boundaries and analyze a renewed call to address poverty in a comprehensive and complete strategy to create a pathway out of poverty and self-sustainably for all of our neighbors across all jurisdictions.
So how exactly can you help? First, let’s stop referring to our brothers and sisters, our children and our veterans as “the homeless” they are indeed “the Abandoned.” The question then ensues – who abandoned them? We leave them each day when we don’t vote for legislation that helps improve education, decrease housing costs, and decrease healthcare cost. We stand by when large companies receive tax breaks, draining our economy and resources. We believe the myth of “lack” when there is plenty to go around for us all. When we step over families and children and don’t get outraged – these are all forms of abandonment. Volunteer, donate, vote, fight, and let your voice be heard. Edmond Burke wrote, “All that needs to be done for evil to prevail, is good men doing nothing.” Homelessness must not become the new norm, because 553,000 of our neighbors are affected.
Gregory Scott is the CEO and President of Community Action Partnership in Orange County, California –an agency in Southern California that fights poverty and homelessness. CAP OC is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in Orange County by eliminating and preventing poverty.
Get involved with the work CAP OC does each day, visit www.capoc.org