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Archive for June, 2008

The Buffalo News reports that Gov. Paterson is convening a number of Town Hall meetings throughout the state to discuss and take comments from the community about the state’s efforts to streamline applications for benefits, services, and tax credits for low-wage workers in New York.

Read the story here.

While it is great that the process of applying for public benefits is getting easier for low-wage workers – who have historically under-utilized the benefits and services available to them – it should be noted that these income enhancements are not the answer to low wage employment. Some economists have noted that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1970’s, it would currently be over $18/hour. Therefore, the effort to increase access to mainstream benefits is important but so too is the effort to increase living wage jobs throughout our community and to make work pay.

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The New York Times published an article today, featuring Flint, Michigan and an innovative approach to reducing student turnover during the school year. The state Department of Human Services is offering a $100/month subsidy to low-income families, allowing them to stay in their current unit and/or avoiding future moves.

“House-hopping” is common in low-income areas, such as Flint, Baltimore and Buffalo. Many times, families are evicted for non-payment of rent, utilities are shut off or they are trying to flee unsafe neighborhoods or living conditions. This directly affects school-aged children by disrupting their school year, impeding educational and social development and also slowing down the pace of the classroom as teachers struggle to keep new or transfer students afloat.

The program was first piloted in two of Flint’s schools in 2004 with several important features. 40 families of second-graders were selected to participate, with the students staying with the same teacher and classmates for two years in a row. The rent subsidy was paid directly to the landlord, who agreed to maintain housing code and not raise the rent. Finally, the families were linked with a family resource center, located at the schools, allowing for access to services without having to wait in long, often impersonal lines at the Department of Social Services. Although results are preliminary and require more longitudinal data, the pilot group of students scored significantly better on standardized test and moved less.

According to the most recent Annual Homelessness Profile for Buffalo and Erie County (data from October 2006-September 2007), 897 children ages 17 and under were living in the homeless housing system. Not only are hundreds of our students homeless but with so many of our children living in poverty, the constant moves and turnover in schools is a great detriment to success. We would do well to remember that homelessness and poverty disproportionately affect children and should strive to take measures, such as what is being done in Flint, to eliminate the threats posed by educational instability.

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The Buffalo News reports today that the US unemployment rate for the month of May was 5.5%. This is higher than economists had anticipated and reflects an increase in payroll cuts for this season.

The increased cost of basic goods and the declining value of the minimum wage has eroded the standard of living for those who have jobs as it is. Some economists have noted that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1970’s, it would currently be $18/hour. In New York State, the minimum wage is $7.15.

In such a job climate as this, where even middle-class individuals are having a difficult time finding and keeping employment, the argument that the homeless just need to get jobs simply doesn’t hold weight.

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Al-Jazeera, an international news agency, recently did an investigative piece on Buffalo that highlighted poverty and economic development in the city. Local activists from the Coalition for Economic Justice, People United for Sustainable Housing, the Partnership for the Public Good, and Harvest House were all interviewed.

What is notable about this video is the coverage of the living wage struggle for city sanitation workers who were being paid $9/hour and classified as seasonal workers. Every year, they would be laid off for a week and on their lay-off notice would be given a date to report back for work. This was to circumvent Buffalo’s living wage law; if they were classified as permanent workers they would have to be paid a living wage – laying them off for a week kept them classified as seasonal workers and not covered by the living wage law. This coverage is noteworthy because it was not covered in-depth by local or regional media outlets, yet was given significant coverage by international media in this program.

Here is the video from YouTube:

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Those who are homeless are often called lazy. It is not uncommon for the Homeless Alliance staff to hear comments like “why can’t they just find jobs?” when we talk about homelessness in the community. Too often, those who are disconnected from the experience of homelessness want to boil it down to the individual while also creating silver-bullet solutions (i.e., “get a job”). Yet, with a quarter of homeless individuals in Erie County reporting that they have a disability which precludes them from working, it is clear that employment is not the solution. We often think that the difference between “us” (those who have a home) and “them” (those who are homeless) is that “we” work and “they” don’t. It is interesting that few recognize that the difference is a home.

Moreover, there seems to be a double standard about work. Often, those who are poor or homeless just “need to get job”. When it comes to the poor, we put a high value on the need to work. Yet at that same time, we don’t reward work in this country, as the declining value of the minimum wage demonstrates. Some economists have noted that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1970’s, then it would currently be about $18/hour.

Kevin Barbieux, author of a great blog from Nashville called The Homeless Guy, highlighted a comment from one of his readers in this post that really reflects the misconceptions about those who are homeless and “laziness”.

If you haven’t looked at The Homeless Guy blog before, take a minute to check it out, as it contains a lot of great discussions.

The comments made in this post also reflect on the difficulties of panhandling. Often, panhandlers are treated as criminals, threats, or as less than human. Of course, not all who are homeless panhandle and not all panhandlers are homeless.

One way that cities have helped alleviate the dehumanization and maltreatment associated with panhandling is through the creation of “street newspapers”. Vendors can buy – at a low price – a stack of street papers and sell them on the streets and keep the profit. This replaces asking for money and provides more opportunity for positive interaction on the street. The papers they sell contain issues that matter to homeless and low-income populations – articles, stories, poetry, art – etc.

A great example of a street paper is “streetvibes” from Cincinnati. Also, the North American Street Newspaper Association promotes the creation of street newspapers throughout cities in North America.

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Recently, the New York Times reported that several large banks have revoked their backing of student loans to students attending community colleges, for-profit institutions and other less selective and competitive postsecondary institutions. Meanwhile, funding for students attending more selective, public and private, four-year institutions has remained intact and unchanged.

You may be asking yourself at this point, “Why is the Homeless Alliance blogging about this?” While you may be correct in assuming that this is not an issue related directly to homelessness, it does have implications for low-income folks.

Community colleges and for-profit institutions are often a route for low-income students who cannot afford attendance at more expensive institutions, and cutting tuition assistance to students accessing this form of postsecondary education seriously limits their options. In a time when it is widely believed that postsecondary credentials are a necessity to economic security and several research studies indicate that higher education is stratifying along class lines (ie. more affluent students are in attendance at the more prestigious institutions), a move to cut loans for students that may already be economically disadvantaged only serves to further exacerbate economic disparities between the haves and the have-nots.

Read the full story here.

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…so says the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The journal reported in an article in July 2005 that strategies for nutrition outreach can’t be limited to recommending high-cost, nutrient-dense foods to low income households, but that

The broader problem may lie with growing disparities in incomes and wealth, declining value of the minimum wage, food imports, tariffs, and trade.

The Philadelphia Inquirer this month reported on the increase in food costs and how it is making it more difficult for low income families to buy nutritious foods. It’s not that they don’t want to buy these foods, it’s that they can’t buy higher-quality foods because they simply can’t afford it.

Note: the epidemiologist interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote the article for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005.

It is not uncommon to hear misconceptions that poor folks who are obese would be able to save more money if they ate less – assuming first that obesity is caused by overeating, and second that obesity is the cause of their poverty. There is a relationship between obesity and poverty indeed, sound research demonstrates that it is poverty that often causes obesity.

Here’s a pdf of the article.

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