Archive for August, 2009

Homeless Families in WNY

With school starting up for most kids in the next couple weeks, we thought we would take some time to address the rising incidence of homelessness in families and some of the very devastating effects this has on the children in these families.


In America’s Youngest Outcasts, the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) reports that since its last report in 1999, child homelessness worsened, especially since the onset of the Subprime/Foreclosure Crisis and accompanying recession. Roughly 1 of every 50 children in America will experience homelessness. Additionally, they found that:

-Children without homes are twice as likely to experience hunger as other children. Two-thirds worry they won’t have enough to eat. More than one-third of homeless children report being forced to skip meals.

-Homelessness makes children sick. Children who experience homelessness are more than twice as likely as middle class children to have moderate to severe acute and chronic health problems.

-Homeless children are twice as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, to be expelled or suspended, or to drop out of high school. At the end of high school, few homeless students are proficient in reading and math – and their estimated graduation rate is below 25%.

kids window

Here in Erie County nearly a third of the homeless population are homeless families. In 2008, 64.9% of families were experiencing homelessness for the first time and the most commonly cited reason for homelessness was eviction, evidence that the Subprime/Foreclosure Crises and Recession are hitting Western New York hard.

The average income for homeless families in the area was $497.90/month and 39.2% of families reported not having any source of income. Only 6.1% reported having an income over $20,000/year.

Further, a third of all women in homeless families have experienced domestic violence.

(all data from our “2008 Buffalo and Erie County Annual Homelessness Profile”, which can be found at http://www.wnyhomeless.org)


There will be hundreds (possibly thousands) of children attending school in Western New York this year that will not have a steady place to come home to. As stated above, homelessness will have profoundly harmful effects on these childrens’ development.

Already born into a situation that affords few privileges and numerous challenges, these children and their parents will have to struggle especially hard for the next several years to find shelter due to an abusive housing market that places profit above human need. Some may be able to overcome these inequalities (with a little outside help from family or friends) but many of these children and families will be condemned to minimum wage jobs and unaffordable rents, ensuring that their housing situation will be precarious at best.

The struggle to end poverty and homelessness in Western New York must place as a high priority the healthy development of all children, regardless of income. Facing enormous economic and social inequalities, these children and families need all the help they can get.

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This article from a few weeks ago does a nice job demonstrating how mass media sources (conservative and liberal alike) neglect to cover structural inequalities, instead focusing on issues of individual responsibility.  Here at HAWNY we hope to provide an alternative understanding of poverty and policy/action related to poverty which focuses on the root economic/social inequalties that impoverish vast numbers of people here in Western New York and throughout the country.

News Not Fit to Print?

Structural Inequality


Last week President Obama spoke boldly about persistent racial discrimination and criticized the “structural inequality” that presents “the steepest barrier” to African American equality in the 21st century.

Speaking before a crowd at the centennial convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he highlighted the need for government action to help tear down these barriers.

So it was a surprise to see this headline on the New York Times story covering the event: “Obama Tells Fellow Blacks: ‘No Excuses’ for Failure.”

Somehow the Times saw fit to dismiss Obama’s meaningful acknowledgement of continued discrimination and, instead, portray his speech as a dose of “tough love” to black America.

The Times was not alone, though. The Huffington Post, a purportedly more liberal outlet, titled its article “Your destiny is in your hands … ‘No excuses.'”

It is true that President Obama borrowed a page from the book of black leaders as diverse as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Al Sharpton and Minister Louis Farrakhan in outlining the need for black self-empowerment. But it was a damaging oversight to ignore the president’s recognition of systemic inequality and the policy solutions he laid out to reform these systems.

By addressing the living legacy of white supremacy, African-American socio-economic disenfranchisement, President Obama advanced the discussion of racial inequality.

The president pointed out that the African American community still suffers from discrimination and is disproportionately hurt by a recession and the boom/bust economy that has broadened economic inequality throughout the country. He included policy proposals ranging from changes to tax policy, health care, education and housing to improve the condition of African Americans.

One of the most repeated themes in Obama’s address was that the nation’s racial inequality is not an African-American problem, but rather a problem of our entire nation. Yet if you read the New York Times, you’d think the president was simply scolding African Americans for failing to live up to their potential.

I had hoped for more from the leading newspaper in the country. Not only should the Times have reported on what Obama actually said, but as is done concerning other important policy matters, it should have also examined whether Obama’s prescriptions were adequate for the ongoing racial economic divide.

As someone who studies the racial economic divide, particularly between African-Americans and whites, my strongest criticism of the address is that Obama’s policy solutions are not strong enough to overcome the structural inequality suffered by African Americans. African Americans have only 10 percent of the wealth of white Americans and they are segregated into the most disenfranchised communities. On top of that, their job loss rate has been far higher than the rest of American’s during our current economic crisis.

When I first read President Obama’s address to the NAACP, I had a mixed reaction. I was glad to have a president who saw government responsibility for the structural inequality developed through decades of discrimination. At the same time, I found myself disappointed that he did not advocate for stronger measures, like an equity assessment of all future federal spending to ensure that government funds do not solidify the racial economic divide.

Yet after reading news coverage of President Obama’s address, I realized that his discussion of structural inequality is beyond what most Americans are prepared to deal with, or at least beyond what The New York Times sees as news that’s fit to print.

Dedrick Muhammad is the senior organizer and research associate for the Inequality and Common Good Project of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. – www.ips-dc.org


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An interesting article with useful links…

Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets

This article appeared in the August 3, 2009 edition of The Nation.

July 15, 2009

For millions of Americans, the housing crisis began well before last year’s front-page collapse. Bigotry and criminalization by an unjust system of policing and incarceration, combined with economic privation, have kept even the meager privilege of a subprime mortgage or slumlord lease out of reach for many. As the crisis unfolds, the number of homeless will grow.

Picture the Homeless, a social justice organization founded and led by homeless people in New York City, has joined The Nation to come up with a list of things you need to know to live on the street–and ways we can all build movements to challenge the stigma of homelessness and put forward an alternative vision of community.

1 Be prepared to be blamed for your circumstances, no matter how much they may be beyond your control. Think of ways to disabuse the public of common misconceptions. Don’t internalize cruelty or condescension. Let go of your pride–but hold on to your dignity.

2 There is no private space to which you may retreat. You are on display 24/7. Learn to travel light. Store valuables in a safe place, only carrying around what you really need: ID and documents for accessing services, a pen, etc. You can check e-mail and read at the library. You can get a post office box for a fee or use general delivery (free).

3 Learn the best bathroom options, where you won’t be rushed, turned away or harassed. Find restrooms where it’s clean enough to put your stuff down, the stalls are big enough to change in and there’s hot water so you can wash up. If you’re in New York City go to Restrooms in New York.

4 It’s difficult to have much control over when, where and what you eat, so learn soup kitchen schedules and menus. Carry with you nuts, peanut butter or other foods high in protein. Click here to find a list of soup kitchens by state.

5 Food and clothing are easier to find than a safe place to sleep–the first truth of homelessness is sleep deprivation. Always have a blanket. Whenever possible, sleep in groups with staggered schedules, so you can look out for one another, prioritizing children’s needs over those of adults.

6 Know your rights! Knowing constitutional amendments, legal precedents and human rights provisions can help you, even if they’re routinely violated. In New York, for example, a 2003 court-ordered settlement strictly forbids selective enforcement of the law against the homeless. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement offers another resource, and the ACLU has cards, brochures, fact sheets and films.

7 Learn police patterns and practices. Be polite and calm to cops, even when they don’t give the same respect. Support initiatives demanding independent police accountability. Link with groups from overlapping populations of nonhomeless and homeless people (i.e., black, Latino, LGBT groups) that are fighting police brutality and building nonpolice safety projects, like the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System in Brooklyn. Organize your own CopWatch–and photograph, videotape and publicize instances of police abuse. Consider and support models like the Los Angeles Community Action Network or the People’s Self Defense Campaign of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Brooklyn.

8 The First Amendment protects your right to solicit aid (panhandling), especially if your pitch or sign is a statement rather than a request. To succeed, be creative, funny, engaging (“I didn’t get a bailout!”). Find good, high-traffic spots where the police won’t bother you.

9 Housing is a human right! Squat. Forge coalitions with nonhomeless but potentially displaced people in this era of mass foreclosures. Support United Workers in Baltimore, the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco, the Nashville Homeless Power Project. Learn about campaigns against homelessness in other nations, including the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil and the Anti-Eviction Campaign in South Africa.

10 Don’t go it alone! Always be part of an informal network of trust and mutual aid. Start your own organization, with homeless people themselves shaping the fight for a better life and world. Check out the Picture the Homeless Blog for news, updates and reports on homelessness in NY.

CONCEIVED by WALTER MOSLEY with research by Rae Gomes


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Something to keep in mind during the current health care reform debate…

Canada Cares for Homeless and Saves

By Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent Published Sunday, July 19, 2009

OTTAWA — “Hey, doc!”

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull pivots around, coming face to face with a man with bloodshot eyes and boozy breath.

“Hey, doc,” the man repeats. “You now what my medication is? Drink as much as I can!”

Both laugh heartily, and Turnbull gives him a friendly slap on the back. This is not a place for the prudish.

It is a weekday morning in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and Turnbull has just arrived at a Salvation Army shelter for the homeless, one of three he will visit this day. The shelters are part of a program that is saving millions of dollars by keeping homeless drunks and drug addicts out of the hospital.

“Before we started, some of these people would have been in the emergency room daily,” says Turnbull, chief of staff at Ottawa’s largest hospital.

As Congress wrestles with health care reform, much attention has been focused on Canada’s system of universal coverage. Even the poorest of the nation’s 33 million citizens are entitled to doctor visits and hospital care at government expense.

Canada spends 10 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, compared with 15 percent in the United States. However, Canadian health care costs are soaring as the population ages. Hence the push for money-saving programs like Ottawa’s Inner City Health Care, largely funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health.

“Both the Canadian and American systems have trouble getting care for the poor, the disabled and the psychiatric,” Turnbull says, “but I think the organization and delivery of care is easier when you have a public system.”

• • •

Turnbull, an internist who bears a slight resemblance to comedian Robin Williams, makes the shelter rounds twice a week.

The first stop is a place almost unimaginable in the United States — a hospice for the homeless. He steps into a small but sunny room where Dr. Tara Tucker strokes the shriveled arm of a 56-year-old musician with a long history of drug abuse. Esophageal cancer has spread to his abdomen.

“There’s a real shift in him,” Tucker reports. “He doesn’t seem as anxious.”

“I think he’s becoming more accepting of what’s going on,” Turnbull says.

“The thing we might not be adequately managing right now is the confusion,” the other doctor continues. “We’re thinking of adding a dose of Haldol,” which is used to treat delirium.

Turnbull nods in agreement and moves on to an 80-year-old chronic alcoholic. His children, gathered around the bed, say he has become increasingly listless.

“I think it’s always a good idea to have him sit up as much as he can,” Turnbull tells the family.

After helping another dying man open a container of chocolate pudding, Turnbull heads to the Salvation Army shelter. Stuck to the wall are these notices:



“We give them clean crack pipes,” Turnbull says, “because we know that sharing pipes can cause them to contract hepatitis C.”

Canada’s controversial pipe-and-needle exchange programs started in 1989 in Vancouver, where addicts are permitted to inject at a supervised site. The city of Ottawa never sanctioned injections but even the pipe exchange was too much for city councillors, who killed the program in 2007. It has continued with funding from the Ontario government.

Everyone at the Salvation Army is up and about, though several flock to Turnbull with minor ailments. For a severely abscessed toe he prescribes a drug that normally costs $500; there is no charge to the sufferer, who is covered under Ontario’s prescription drug program for the disabled, low income and people 65 and older.

Others complain of generalized pain. Some of the shelter’s denizens have been hooked on powerful opiates like OxyContin and clearly want more.

“If you’re looking for long-term narcotics,” Turnbull tells one, “I’m not your man.”

For most of those he treats, Turnbull can bill the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. He donates the money to the Inner City program so it can help more clients and buy over-the-counter drugs, which are not covered by the government. Turnbull prescribes one — Sinutab — for a barrel-chested man with a scraggly ponytail.

“I really appreciate the help you give me, doc,” he says. “Really.”

• • •


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Renaissance Hotel
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Thank you, Nan – for that introduction, for your remarkable leadership with the Alliance, and, above all, for the bedrock commitment to end homelessness you have impressed upon five different HUD Secretaries. I look forward to continuing our work together.

I want to also thank your board, particularly Co-Chairs Susan Baker and Mike Lowry. And I want to note the HUD team here helping us address homelessness – Mark Johnston, our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, and Ann Oliva, who heads up our Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.

And of course, many of you know Fred Karnas – Fred is a senior adviser and has been critical in our Recovery Act efforts, including working with Mark and Ann quickly distributing the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds that so many of you made possible.

Will all of you stand up?

I want to also acknowledge the work of the Pete Dougherty, the interim executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the USICH staff, many of whom are here today.

But most of all, I want to thank everyone in this room who labor day in and day out to help the millions of men, women, and children in our nation who experience homelessness.

In the best of times, it is hard work.

In times like these, it is nothing less than the work of angels.

So, thank you.

Three years ago, The New Yorker ran an article that most of you are probably familiar with.

It was called”Million Dollar Murray” and it chronicled the story of an ex-marine who, for well over a decade, was a fixture in the part of Reno, Nevada that tourists rarely see: its shelters, emergency rooms, jail cells, and backstreets.

Like too many of our nation’s homeless population, Murray Barr died while still homeless, still on the streets.

Indeed, his story reminds us that each of us is here today for the same fundamental reasons:

Because we believe that a civilized society does not allow someone to live like that.

Because a civilized society doesn’t allow someone to die like that – alone, on the streets, with no hope, no chance for a better life.

But as much as Murray’s story was a cautionary tale – it was also one of affirmation.

Today, not only do we know we can do better by the long-term homeless, like Murray – because of you, we are doing better.

I witnessed this for myself in New York City, where as Commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, I worked with groups like Common Ground, who day-after-day systematically debunked one of the most corrosive myths that even well-meaning people have long held:

That some people want to be homeless.

It led to a twisted sort of logic – that if government couldn’t house and improve the health of those living on our streets-visibly ill and suffering-who could we help?

Well, together, we showed them. By developing the “technology” of combining housing and supportive services-delivering permanent supportive housing via a targeted pipeline of resources- we’ve “moved the needle” on chronic homelessness, reducing the number of chronically ill, long-term homeless by nearly a third in the three years since “Million Dollar Murray” was published.

The fact is, we have now proven that we can house anyone.

Our job now is to house everyone – to prevent and end homelessness.

All homelessness.

That is what the Alliance has fought for in communities across the country – and it’s time that the Federal government not only supported those efforts, but took the lead.


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