Who's homeless in Northeast Louisiana? When most people think of a homeless person, they envision a middle aged man who’s mentally ill or has a problem with substance abuse, or sometimes both. Or an individual who has fallen on hard times and is drifting from place to place, trying to get a foothold and make a new start. Across the country, those descriptions fit two out of three (63.4%) of homeless. (AHAR 2011) Here in NELA, over half (54.5%) of homeless are a young parent and their children, who are fleeing a violent home or because of depression or a bad break, or a poor choice have landed on the streets. (NELA HOME Coalition Point in Time, 2012)
How is homelessness defined?
Government agencies and nonprofits that serve the homeless may have different technical definitions of who is considered homeless, but in general someone is homeless if he or she does not have a permanent place to live -- that is, if he or she is living in a temporary site such as a a shelter or on the streets, in a car, shed, camp, or other place not meant for human habitation. Under some federal laws, a family may be considered homeless if they have no permanent place to live and have had to move from house to house staying with family, friends, and others on a continous basis.
How common is homelessness here? On any given night in NELA, nearly 260 people are on the streets, sleeping in the backseat of a car, in a park or the woods, or somewhere else most of us wouldn’t let a pet sleep. Our own research shows that about a fourth (27.6%) of those said they were homeless because are fleeing abuse. 36.9% have a disabling illness or condition. (2012) On an annual basis, that one-night number can be adjusted using a national formula to an annualized estimate of approximately 2,600.
How does this affect the community? If you look just a dollar cost, a 2004 Florida study showed each homeless person costs the state nearly $12,000 a year in lost tax revenue. The human toll is far greater – homeless persons are more likely to have difficulty getting or keeping a job, suffer mental health issues like depression, to be sick, and to live in poverty. (naeh.org, 2009) The impact on homeless children in particular is difficult, with reduced school attendance and performance as well the mental and physical health problems.(US DHH Rog et al 2007)
What is the community doing about it? NELA has one of the best systems in place in the country for serving our homeless though all the homeless service providers have waiting lists of people who are waiting to get help. We don’t yet serve all those who need our help in the area because the great needs outstrips available funding, but the ones we do help often get back on their feet and back into the mainstream of being housed, productive citizens again. All the service providers have formed an organization called the HOME Coalition that meets monthly to share information, coordinate our services, define the area’s needs, and to work on strategies to meet those needs.
What can YOU do to help? Find out more about homelessness by scheduling a speaker for your group or class. Get involved in addressing homelessness by attending HOME Coaltion meetings (call 807-6200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out when the next meeting is scheduled). Call United Way's 2-1-1 resource line to find out all about help for the homeless and volunteer opportunities with homeless service providers. Or donate goods or funding to The Wellspring or other homeless service providers of your choice. Most of all, help dispel myths about homelessness in NELA. Here are some of the most common, along with the facts everyone should know.
Myth: People who are homeless want to be that way.
Fact: Few (2.7%) of the homeless are that way by choice. (Snow, Anderson, 1993)
Myth: Charitable groups will take care of the homeless.
Fact: The needs of the homeless far exceed the capacity of charitable/non-profit groups. (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2008) In NELA as elsewhere, demand always exceeds supply for subsidized housing and services of homeless assistance providers. Here a minority of the homeless being served by homeless programs receive any type of public assistance. An Oct. 2011 survey showed the top three benefits received by the homeless were food stamps (83%), Medicaid(12%), and Section 8 rental assistance (4%). (NELA HOME Coalition, 2013)
Myth: It is easy to recognize homeless people.
Fact: It is impossible to identify the homeless by sight because they are typically working in low-income jobs and their children are in school during the day. At night they sleep in vehicles, garages, or motels. Many move daily from house to house not knowing who will allow them to sleep on their floor or sofa that night. (The Wellspring Home at Last Program, 2008)
Myth: Homeless people are dangerous
Fact: In general, the homeless are among the least threatening group in our society and are more likely to be victims of crime themselves. (Natl. Coalition for the Homeless, 2008) Although they are more likely to commit non-violent crimes and non-destructive crimes, they are less likely to commit crimes against person or property. (American Society of Criminology, 2007) In recent years, many cities have made being homeless a crime, by passing measures that target homeless people by making it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities like sleeping, camping, eating, or begging in public. (NCH, 2008)
Myth: Homeless people don’t work.
Fact: The working poor make up a significant portion of the homeless — 17.4% of homeless families and 13% of homeless individuals. (U.S. Confr. of Mayors, 2007) In NELA in January 2012, 40% of those served by homeless programs reported income from employment. Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. The working poor typically have very low paying jobs that put housing out of reach for many workers. On average, a minimum-wage worker (who earns $7.25 per hour) would have to work 96 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing which is $695 per month according to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. (2013)
For more information or to get help, contact Home at Last at (318) 807-6200.