Why are a rising number of people in the United States homeless when the country is considered to be more prosperous than we have been in years?

Statistics indicate that the gap between rich and poor is widening. While the income of the top % of the population has increased, the income of the bottom % of the population has actually fallen. More young black men are unemployed than ever before.

The prosperity of some may actually increase hardship for many others. According to a recent study there is not one city in the United States where a person making minumum wage (or anything up to $7.50 an hour) can afford to rent a market-rate apartment.

Rising Costs of Housing

Everybody who has a square foot to rent has a natural desire to collect the most money for it as possible. If there are a number of people in town who can pay $2000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, most ambitious landlords will be angling for their $2000 rent check, and not the MacDonald's clerk's $200 a month rent check.

Civic planners have an understandable desire to have their community look as attractive as possible -- usually defined as lots of free-standing dwellings with lots of green space, with a svcattering of well-kept condos and townhouses. Mother-in-law apartments over the garage, spare rooms in the basement and attic, artist lofts, may be allowed by liberal-leaning administrations. Lean-to's and shacks and tents are definitely not in the plan.

Gentrification isn't completely driven by market forces and middle-class city planners. Most people have an understandable desire to live in the nicest surroundings they can afford.

What can be done to increase the availability of affordable housing while respecting the rights of all human beings involved?

Where Wages Aren't Booming

In one high-school class I spoke to on homelessness a young woman said, "Well if somebody can't afford an apartment on a minimum wage job, they should just get another job, duh!" A great deal of adults think the same way. Aren't there plenty of good jobs going begging?

For one thing, the young woman being so adamant was not herself prepared to hold down any job beyond MacDonald's clerk. She was not studying accounting, data processing skills, science, or any subject that would prepare her for a successful future in a high-tech job market.

She has time yet to change her study focus and get prepared. Many other people her age have already been derailed, sometimes years before. As the children of already poor families, they grew up with poor nutrition, no parents reading to them, no doting grandparents encouraging them to write. They could have had vision deficiencies, diabetes, mood disorders or any other undiagnosed condition disrupting their education and development. At this point, if they're still in school, they're barely hanging on.

If people aren't qualified for high-tech jobs, no amount of high-tech job availability is going to get them out of poverty.

Homeless Columns ed. by Anitra L. Freeman