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At the Homeless Alliance, something we try to emphasize is that bad things happen to everyone. Everyone makes a bad choice, gets bad luck, and goes through personal crises at some point. That’s just life.

However not everyone who goes through a rough patch ends up bankrupt, impoverished and/or homeless.

Those of us fortunate to have well-paying jobs and family and friends who have financial resources and connections have a much better chance of getting through these bleak periods without losing everything.

The Buffalo News’ Joblessness Fuels Bankruptcy Spike shows us what happens when people with low-paying jobs, little wealth, and few options hit a rough patch.

Judge Bucki sees people in US Bankruptcy Court who have just gone through “job losses, divorce, health care issues, drugs, gambling, misuse of credit cards — every problem that can exist in a household.” All these things happen to people in households of all income levels. Again, the difference is that if it happens to a high-paid corporate executive (or other well-compensated/upper middle-class and wealthy persons), that person often has money in the bank, or other resources, and will be able to get through the rough patch (most likely).

This is not to say that there are not low-income, low-wealth people who manage to get through these traumas and not go bankrupt. It is only to say that low-income, low-wealth people will (most likely) have a much harder time recovering from personal crises than those who have the money and the connections to get through them.

Personal circumstances and personal crises, in and of themselves, do not create poverty. Everybody makes bad choices and has bad luck but not everybody is poor. Economic and social inequalities like low-paying jobs, lack of affordable housing, and lack of health insurance drain household wealth, leave lower-income households incredibly at risk when they run into bad times, often sending them into poverty.

-On a side note: Congratulations go out to PUSH and ReUSE for their successful efforts to create real policy change that will begin to tackle housing inequalities!

The “Need Help With Utilities?” posters have loads of info on all the utility assistance programs in the area. As the temperatures drop, the info these posters can help you cope with soaring utilities costs.

The posters are on large 11″x17″ paper and are perfect for your organization’s lobby, waiting room, or bulletin board.

Please email info@wnyhomeless.org or call us at 853-1101 to get posters.

You can also download the “Need Help With Utilities?” poster here:

“Need Help With Utilities?” (pdf)

As unemployment rates remain at historic highs and unemployment benefits run out for many workers and their families, steady sources of monthly income have become increasingly hard to come by. A recent article, Living On Nothing But Food Stamps, finds millions of workers and families relying on food stamp benefits as their sole source of income.

No money for rent or mortgage payments, transportation, utilities, or any of the other bare necessities.

Savings may help some of these households get through this rough period until they find full employment again but what about those who have little in savings? What if they are unable to find full employment?

This article begs a question that many Americans are now asking: is the American safety net torn?

Affordable, secure, housing is a basic necessity for any individual to survive. It becomes especially important for people who are going through or have experienced trauma. As one can imagine, and as thousands in Buffalo can attest to, homelessness is not only a massive issue itself but it also complicates almost every aspect of daily life and greatly exacerbates the effects of any other issue a person may be experiencing.

The following articles demonstrate just how much of an impact affordable housing can have on the lives of people and families in crisis:

Fraud, Cancer, House Collapse: Adversity Inspires Philly Mom To Pay It Forward
, ‘Machias Makeover’ Aids Family in Need, PUSH Activists Step Into ‘Makeover’ Spotlight, New Shelter Prepares to Open Doors in Buffalo

Terrible things happen to everyone, regardless of how much money one makes. There is little any individual, community, or government agency can do to anticipate or prevent this; it’s one of those facts of life. Fortunately, many of us have decent paying jobs and have been able to save up some money which can be used to get us through the rough patches. Unfortunately, many individuals are paid very little (see previous post “Paychecks and Poverty”) and cannot save up money for emergencies. When tragedy hits low-income, low-wealth people they have little to fall back on and often times are unable to afford basic necessities such as housing.
Communities and governments can play a part here. Providing affordable housing helps stabilize people in crisis and helps keep them from having to rely on much more costly emergency services. It literally provides a firm home base from which a person can work through the issues they are facing. These stories and the stories of thousands of people who have been affected by the work of organizations like Project H.O.M.E., the entire Machias community, PUSH, and Lake Shore Behavioral Health attest to the value and importance of ensuring that affordable housing is available for all people.

In “What 537 different jobs pay in WNY”, Buffalo Business First reports on the Bureau of Labor’s occupation-income statistics for the Buffalo Metro Area, the third poorest city in the country. While their reporting focused on the highest paid professions in the area, we dug further into the numbers…

Over 221,000 of the 581,800 workers in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area earn less than $28,912 a year, the amount required to afford* a two-bedroom apartment plus utilities. In fact six out of the top ten most common occupations in the area do not pay enough for the worker to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

The most common occupation in the area, retail salesperson, paid $24,000 a year, barely enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment plus utilities.

The Food Stamp Income Eligibility Limit for a three person household is $23,808 a year. Over 100,000 people in the area work jobs that could qualify them for food stamps if they were the sole earner in a three person household.

What does this mean? It means that there are tens of thousands of working people in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area who are being paid so little that they cannot afford basic housing and could probably qualify for food stamps.

And this says nothing for the nearly 9% of workers in the area who are unemployed.

What relationship do these numbers have with the fact that Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the country?

It’s tempting to say that Buffalo is an extremely cheap place to live but for the person making less than $25,000 a year, is it really that cheap?

The connection between low-wages and poverty needs to be made much clearer. There will always be people living in poverty so long as the wages offered by employers are not enough for people to afford basic housing and food.

*Housing is generally accepted to be affordable when a household spends 30% of its income on housing. The Fair Market Rent (rent plus utilities) for a two-bedroom in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area is $723/month.