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Archive for May, 2008

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter and the Philadelphia Housing Authority have teamed up to provide 700 housing units and beds to address the needs of the city’s homeless population.

At a cost of $8.3 million, 500 PHA housing units will be given over to homeless populations, including 50 safe haven beds.

The exciting part of this effort is that it is being driven by the Mayor and the Public Housing Authority, both of which have committed significant funds to achieve the goal transitioning street homeless and homeless in shelters into permanent housing options. Mayoral buy-in, coupled with a commitment from the PHA, is a great joint effort to see.

This type of effort is clearly a model that we should try to incorporate here in Buffalo and Erie County.

Read the full article here.

Read the pdf version here.

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In an article published in the New York Times today, Mayor Nagin Of New Orleans was quoted as saying that the solution to homelessness was to purchase one-way tickets out of town. This insensitive and trite comment was later recanted and framed as a joke, but to thousands of homeless people in New Orleans, it wasn’t very funny.

After Hurricane Katrina, the homeless population doubled as the size of the city overall halved. In addition, the city lost 800 of its 2,800 beds designated for homeless people. A significantly increased population coupled with a 30% reduction in emergency and transitional housing for homeless has dealt a crippling blow to the post-Katrina city.

Making matters worse, appropriations and rental subsidies for low-income residents, as well as disabled homeless residents have been approved by the Senate but have yet to pass in Congress. Ironically, Congress approved millions to provide wraparound services for those in need once they have moved into apartments and gave hefty tax breaks to developers and construction companies to increase the affordable housing stock by setting aside units for low-income renters and even promisign 5% of units for the chronically homeless. What Congress did not do is approve money to help pay the rent, meaning that people most in need are not able to move into these units and those who are already in permanent supportive housing will lose their subsideis once they expire at the end of this year.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans, an agency that provides services to the homeless, went to one of the city’s largest encampments to talk to homeless residents about their experiences. Some of the most interesting highlights include:

  • Only 26% of clients surveyed were homeless before Hurricane Katrina
  • Contrary to popular belief, only 14% of people were not residents of New Orleans prior to Katrina.
  • 31% had lost their FEMA trialer or other rental assistance
  • 33% reported being a victim of a violent crime since becoming homeless
  • 75% had no medical insurance

While the situation in New Orleans is disheartening and somewhat unique due to natural disaster, we should not assume that our most vulnerable homeless people here in Western New York aren’t similary at risk. In January, we talked to 1,400 people about their backgrounds and experiences with homelessness but most of the survey respondents were already being housed. The Homeless Alliance is currently considering a similar effort, focusing exclusively on our street homeless, as it becomes evident that this often-overlooked segment of our homeless population could benefit from immediate outreach and assistance.

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CNN did a profile last week of a middle-aged woman in Santa Barbara who lost her condo, is collecting Social Security, working part time, and cannot find a place to live. She currently resides in a parking lot with a number of other women who are in a similar situation; they sleep in their cars and the parking lot is gated and locked.

There has been a tendency to (incorrectly) perceive those who are homeless as “the other”, as those outside normal society, and – in some instances – they are perceived as having less dignity. Not only is this incorrect, but the story here demonstrates that homelessness can and does affect our lives and our communities. There are a great deal of folks who are one or two steps away from homelessness; the story of this woman is an example of that.

Read the story here.

Watch the video interview here.

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The Homeless Alliance will be reporting more on the passage of the Farm Bill by congress in the coming days as more news and analysis becomes available. For now, however, the passage of the Farm Bill as it is increases allocations for Food Stamps by $10.4 billion dollars, a much needed supplement for households that are struggling to meet their food needs on tight budgets.

The Farm Bill passed 318 to 106, meaning that there is a majority to override a veto by the Bush Administration.

Here is the story from the Washington Post

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Photo by Jim Cole/Associated Pres via the New York Times

Recently the New York Times did an investigation into how the Department of Labor Statistics calculates inflation and average prices for basic goods. It is the estimates of the DLS that determines if the Federal Reserve will raise or lower interest rates. In other words, the formulas used by the DLS are of great importance to the federal government in determining the health of the U.S. Economy.

However, some have questioned whether their estimates truly reflect the reality of inflation and standard of living for the average American.

Here’s a link to the story.

Here is a pdf of the article.

Additionally, take some time to check out the very in-depth chart that examines the increase and decreases in common goods and services. What is striking is that while basic foods have increased significantly in the past year: bread (14.7%), milk (13.3%), cheese (12.5%), and eggs (29.9%), the cost of entertainment has either been stagnant or significantly decreased: TV’s (-18.3%), computers (-12.0%), and video equipment (11.3%).

What can be drawn from this is that the things that most low-to-moderate income households spend their money on have increased significantly, while the things which are generally more affordable for higher income households are declining in price. However, the cost of basic necessities affects everyone, yet it is lower-income households who are more vulnerable when prices increase for these staples, putting further pressure on already tight budgets. Just as a reminder, the welfare grant has not been raised since 1990.

Finally, as Food Stamps gets evaluated during the debates over the Farm Bill re-authorization in congress, the Food Research and Action Center, as well as a number of other hunger advocates, are calling for a full indexing for inflation in the Food Stamp program. Though the Food Stamp program gets an increase every year for the “cost of living”, many advocates note that the cost of living adjustment has not kept pace with the inflation in food prices that we are now coming to see.

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The Buffalo News’ Emma Sapong wrote an article about homelessness with a focus on homeless mothers in transitional housing. Two local transitional housing programs are highlighted in the story: Gerard Place and Cornerstone Manor. Additional comments are provided by Bill O’Connell, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

Bill comments on the struggles of mothers in poverty:

When folks are homeless, they’ve already gone through every friend and family resource that they have for inexpensive and reliable child care, so that’s why they are staying in a shelter. High housing and child care costs put many already struggling mothers in financial binds that can lead to homelessness.

Read the full story here.

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The cover story of this week’s Artvoice reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating the city’s administration of the Community Development Block Grant. According to Artvoice, the city is using a significant amount of the block grant money to pay salaries for city employees, plug budget deficits, and pay back loans. The CDBG is intended to pay for projects that will alleviate poverty, build more affordable housing, and create more sustainable communities.

Read the Artvoice story here: http://artvoice.com/issues/v7n19/cover_story

Here is a pdf of the story as well.

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With the Poverty Challenge concluding last week, there was a lot of press coverage around the region.

Bill O’Connell, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, called upon the city and the county to form a poverty task force to address policy from a poverty perspective. Poverty, he said, should be the lens by which all policy is driven.

“When we develop transportation policy we need to consider its effect on poverty and those that live in poverty.  When we develop housing policies we need to consider those in poverty.  When we are looking to invest in small business, bring new business into town, or developing our neighborhoods or the waterfront – we must always be considering its effect on those in most need among us,” said O’Connell

For a run down of the news coverage, visit the Homeless Alliance Education Page.

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2008 Poverty Challenge Reflections

– Fr. Ron Sajdak,

Co-Chairperson Peace & Justice Commission

Of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo

Pastor of St. Martin de Porres/Buffalo, NY

It has been fifteen years since I’ve had to live from pay check to paycheck. The preparation material for the 2008 poverty challenge helped me to want to embrace this initiative so that I may better understand and relate to the day to day struggles of so many here in our city and state.

Being a church professional, and dedicating myself to a life of “professional simplicity” in light of Gospel directives, I thought the challenge would be somewhat off balanced for me. I thought that I wouldn’t be a “normal candidate” and that it would be too easy for me.

As I prepared to take the 2008 challenge, I was surprised to consider so many things that I daily take for granted such as: the cost of having my own private transportation, internet at home, cable TV, health insurance – even if I don’t use it right now, not to mention the cost of meals. Even at the outset it began to open my eyes.

I’m here to report that I failed the challenge. I tried every which way to modify my life. Because I own my car but fuel and insurance costs are provided to me by my church I called my vehicle a “company car” and reduced my daily cost for the vehicle in half. But even with that done, no cable TV at home, no internet, cooking my own meals that would last throughout the challenge, I still couldn’t make ends meet.

At the conclusion of the poverty challenge, I’m ashamed of my failure but I’ve grown in admiration for the countless who have to make ends meet on so little. I’m challenged to investigate how I can make a difference for others. I’m humbled and challenged to a greater simplicity of life just so others may simple live.

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This reflection on the Poverty Challenge experience comes to us from Erin Meegan, staff member for Buffalo Common Council Member Michael Kearns.

I pride myself on being a person who isn’t into money. I don’t wear designer labels or even shop at malls for clothes (Goodwill and Target are fine with me). I don’t care about cars or jewelry. I have been to Central America and India and seen how my choices and the choices of other people in developed nations often enslave the poorest and most vulnerable. I believe in living simply so that others may simply live. And I work for the city because I believe what I do helps make Buffalo a better place to live, even though I could be making more in the private sector.

And yet, I couldn’t make it on the poverty budget either day! Tuesday was my father’s 68th Birthday. I couldn’t say “Sorry, Dad” to a fancy family dinner out, so I went. And I brought my WWII-buff-Dad his gift: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan ($15). Today, Wednesday, I was determined to make it. I had toast for breakfast and was planning on a cheap dinner and lunch to compliment taking the bus. But today I had my hearing for the parking ticket I got last month. Despite my well-reasoned argument I was told I had to pay the ticket- $35!

I can rationalize to myself and say that these were days that were atypical, that living on poverty level wages isn’t impossible….but isn’t every week and month full of “atypical” spending days for us? This week we have to spend more because it’s somebody’s last day at the office, the front steps need new paint, we have to go to dinner to celebrate an anniversary. There is always something, but for those who really live on poverty-level wages, these budget-busters are luxuries. What really shocked me is to see how little wiggle room there is in a budget like this- no room for money for a doctor’s visit, a security deposit on an apartment, car repairs, or anything else.

As I reflect on Devan’s post and my time in poor countries, I know that I, too, am a child of astounding affluence, which we call “the middle class” in America. I, too, had cheap rent and a great landlord during college because of a connection through a roommate’s family friend. I have had two computers and two cars given to me by my parents. Granted, they were all very used by the time I got them, but they were simply handed to me nonetheless. I am left thinking that I need to do more….because there are too many who are living on too little.

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