CLEVELAND - The nation's foreclosure crisis has led to a painful irony for homeless people: On any given night they are outnumbered in some cities by vacant houses, and some street people are taking advantage of the opportunity by becoming squatters.
Foreclosed homes often have an advantage over boarded-up and dilapidated houses abandoned because of rundown conditions: Sometimes the heat, lights and water are still working.
On a related note, the Nashville homeless census (.pdf here) showed a slight increase in the local homeless population:
(NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 8, 2008) – An updated count of the city’s homeless population, coordinated by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, found 2,237 persons living either in shelters or outdoors. The number represents only a nominal increase from last year’s 2,176. The information will be used as part of the continuing effort to combat chronic homelessness in Nashville.
The count, which took place in the early morning hours of January 29, found 1,771 people living in homeless shelters and 466 in non-sheltered locations. Of the total number of homeless individuals counted, a majority are considered to be “chronically homeless.” The federal government defines a chronically homeless person as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”
I can’t imagine that too many of Nashville’s homeless are finding shelter in empty homes; it just seems like all of the new developments are in suburbs and places like Green Hills, while the homeless seem to be clustered around the shelters and other social services offered downtown.
But I could easily be wrong. I know full well that many homeless are adept at staying hidden. I know the park adjacent to the Green Hills Public Library has been home to several homeless individuals. These aren’t the folks dressed in rags and pushing a shopping cart (although Green Hills has its share of those, too), but rather folks who work hard to “blend in.” No doubt, they are not included in the recent census numbers, nor would be squatters taking shelter in an empty home.
I am reminded that these are people, not numbers: people with names, families, and stories to tell. They have problems we can’t even imagine. A lot of them are women with children: this year the Campus for Human Development said they had so many more women clients than usual, by December they had run out of feminine hygiene products. Our church actually took up a collection of sanitary products to help out.
I do know that we're seeing increased numbers of people seeking assistance, people who don't fall under the "chronically homeless" label but instead have jobs (sometimes two or three jobs) who have been affected by the credit mess. These are people who are just one illness or job layoff away from becoming homeless. They aren't the folks showing up in shelters or sleeping under bridges--yet. And I wonder if this city is at all prepared to deal with this potential time bomb.