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May 7, 2014

ANDERSON: Thoughts from around the table

— Sitting around the room on a recent weekend, I listened as my peers from around the country spoke of the one thing we all had in common — homelessness.

Several of the people at the table had experienced homelessness themselves, others had worked in it for years, and still others were new to the issue and the group — The National Coalition for the Homeless. It was amazing to listen to the group, probably around that table was gathered a minimum of 700 years of experience from all over the country. California, Texas, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, New York, Washington D.C., Washington State, Florida, New Hampshire (via Jeffersonville through Yvonne Vissing, former Mayor Rich Vissing’s daughter), Massachusetts, and so many more all talking a common language driven by years of advocacy, hard work, and tenacity.

Some of the smartest, most driven advocates in the country, and I am honored to sit among them. The story was the same, no one reported serving fewer, they all reported serving more with issues harder than ever and resources more limited than ever. So many people, so few answers.

In a recent poll conducted by Gallup (Politics and Public Opinion, Polls; Gallup: More Americans care about hunger and homelessness than illegal immigration or terrorism; Marc Thiessen, March 21, 2014) the poll cited that the much acclaimed climate change issue concerned roughly 49 percent of those polled, while amazingly in the top five issues with 76 percent reporting they worry a great deal or a fair amount about hunger and homelessness. Where is Congress with that 76 percent? Where are local elected officials?

The study cited 72 percent of Republicans worry a great deal about the issues of hunger and homelessness, 71 percent of those declaring to be Independents and 85 percent of all Democrats responding. I would say that is a universal message from a strong cross section of this country. In the course of the poll, 70 percent of conservatives, 75 percent of all moderates and 84 percent of liberals cited serious concern over the issue.

Even more interesting: 75 percent of college graduates, 72 percent of those with some college and 78 percent of those with a high school diploma or less were concerned. So are 73 percent of young Americans aged 18-24; 78 percent of middle class Americans 35-54; and 79 percent of those 55 or older.

As the article cited, “pretty much everybody worries about these issues”. So why the disconnect?

Congress recently passed, yes with our congressman’s support, the Food Bill, which reduces the amount of food stamps allocated to people, growing numbers of hungry people, growing numbers of Americans concerned with the issue, and yet we pass a bill cutting food opportunity to millions of Americans while the price of food escalates because of high gas prices.

What sense does that make? Why hasn’t there been more outrage? According to United Way statistics for this region, two out of five of our children go to bed hungry but we allow Congress to cut food stamps?

When you go further with the poll, you find out that 58 percent of nonwhites worry a great deal about hunger and homelessness, compared to 38 percent of whites. To go even further, 65 percent of liberals worry a “great deal” about the two issues as compared to 37 percent of moderates and 32 percent of conservatives.

“But in no group — except those with some college — does the number who say they are ‘not at all’ worried even reach double digits.” In other words, Americans are scared and they are worried and our congressional leadership has no clue nor apparently no desire to deal with the issues in a real way.

The department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget does not have the capacity to build or subsidize any substantial new units. The money is tighter than ever. Rental subsidies for Section 8 are just not there, waiting lists are mostly 10 years or longer, and some cities are closed.

Thiessen goes on to argue that “If Republicans abandon the poor to the Democrats and focus only on helping the middle class, they will hurt the poor, because the Democrats have all the wrong answers for the problems of poverty. But they will also hurt themselves. Because no one, in the middle class or any class, wants to support a party that does not care for the most vulnerable among us.”

So, as my source is obviously not of my political persuasion, people should take note. On many points he is so right. We cannot continue to ignore the plight of the poor.

People cry out about the safety net being in place, but that’s garbage. That net has had more holes than Swiss cheese for decades. The Gramm-Rudman Act enacted in the 1980s stripped it clean and we forgot to pay attention. We cannot forget again.

The people around the table the other day pledged not to forget this weekend: To go home renewed and to advocate on a stronger and more persistent level; To make the community at large aware and to champion those who need us the most. Please join us in the cause.

No American should ever be able to say: I was hungry but there was no food; I was homeless but there was no shelter; I needed to be healed but there was no physician; I needed you and you were not there.

 — Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com

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