The housing and homeless crisis

By Marylin Olds

These days are indeed overwhelming for Americans without the benefit of having a bit of a cash cushion. Jobs that pay well are getting harder to find — many pay minimum wage with hours cut. Many workers have had their good paying jobs downsized or sent to China. Many of us, if we wanted to be honest about it, are just one paycheck, one hospital stay, one car accident away from not being able to catch up with our monthly bills.

Imagine yourself in that situation.

If you don’t have savings to dip into in emergencies, is there someone you could borrow from? How about relatives that would offer a spare bedroom? Do you even know where the food banks are? You can’t fall back on your rent or your mortgage. Foreclosures are still happening at a fast clip, much to the delight of our still-wayward banks, as are evictions from landlords.

I spent the afternoon at a homelessness forum hosted by West Sound for Social Justice. There was so much information and so much caring shared.

Organizations represented by speakers at the forum were StandUp for Kids, Housing Solutions Center of Kitsap, Bremerton Housing Authority, Kitsap Rescue Mission and Kitsap Mental Health Services. Many more organizations were represented in the audience, as were elected officials.

Wages aren’t keeping up with housing costs. Social Security, something that so many seniors live on, hasn’t kept up for quite some time. Many families are spending 50 to 70 percent of wages on housing and utilities. That can’t be maintained. Shelter or food, shelter or medicine — these are not the questions so many Americans should have to ask themselves.

Average housing today is $1,300 per month. For a two-bedroom apartment in Kitsap, a person needs to make $23.84 per hour, full time. Average rent has been raised nearly 30 percent in three years. Kitsap County states the Federal poverty level for one person is under $11,880 per year; for a four-person family, under $24,300.

Kitsap has a very low vacancy rate as well. Once an apartment has become empty, the next renter moves in, making it even easier to slip into homelessness.

Reasons for evictions could include: housing affordability; rising health care and pharmaceutical costs; rising cost of food and gas; domestic violence; a family crisis; health problems; youths out of the house; drug or alcohol addition; physical or mental health illness; losing a job; and federal aid programs getting cut back time after time. Evictions in Kitsap between 2014 and 2016 mounted from 187 up to 357. In 2017, one in every 150 people was homeless.

Kitsap needs more shelter beds and more shelters. Since the Salvation Army closed its overnight facilities April 1, Kitsap Rescue Mission is the only shelter now open for the homeless. It is currently trying to get funding to enlarge its facilities.

Homelessness is widespread throughout the U.S., and the problem is only getting worse with time. This crisis should be in the public eye. Advocates are needed for getting the homeless sheltered as rapidly as possible as the faster they are shletered, the faster they are able to get back out into society.

Meanwhile, the next time you see someone asking for help, don’t look away. It doesn’t hurt to smile and even ask how they’re doing. Give the person asking for help a buck, try not to put expectations on what will happen with the buck. It certainly won’t buy much today. As it turns out, the homeless are people, too.

Contrary to our current government’s policies and direction, “everybody does better when everybody does better.”

— Marylin Olds is an opinion columnist. Reach her at marylin.olds@gmail.com with questions or comments. Books suggested as great book club reads are Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

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