In a network news show last Sunday, "60 Minutes" presented
viewers with "Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars," a
real-life, heart-rending portrait of homelessness.
The segment focused on 15
Florida children who, with their parents' permission, described their
experiences with homelessness in Seminole County.
CBS correspondent Scott Pelley reported from the county — northeast of
Orlando — eight months ago, the homeless families were living in cheap
hotels, thanks to donations from relief agencies.
But, during his most recent visit, Pelley found the children living in cars or trucks.
one particularly poignant part of the show, Pelley interviewed a
15-year-old girl and her 13-year-old brother. Their mother died when
they were tots. Their father, a carpenter, has been unemployed since
housing construction tanked. After the family lost its home in
foreclosure, the father purchased an old, oversized work truck that has
served as "home" for five months.
Unfortunately, their story was not a made-for-TV moment.
days later, Herald-Tribune correspondent Elizabeth Sims told the story
of a working mother and her four daughters, ages 8 to 13, who previously
had been evicted from their home in Bradenton. After the eviction, they
spent nearly a month living in a late-model, two-door small car parked
in supermarket and convenience-store lots.
the family was rescued from homelessness when Family Promise, a local
interfaith organization that received funds from the Season of Sharing
program, intervened to provide shelter and aid. Now, months later, the
mother has a job and money to rent a modest home in Sarasota.
Such stories of compassion and resilience offer hope.
as the "60 Minutes" segment and a recent Herald-Tribune article by Doug
Sword showed, the trying conditions underlying homelessness, especially
among families, have persisted despite the official end of the Great
The number of
families in crisis — in our region alone — is large and their needs are
great. For example, the poverty rate in Sarasota County jumped from 8
percent to over 13 percent from 2007 to 2010. (That's a
5-percentage-point rise at a time when the national rate rose 2
percentage points.) In Manatee County during that time, the poverty rate
rose from 10.6 percent to 14.5 percent.
Keep in mind: A family of four is considered to be living in poverty only if it makes less than $22,113 per year.
— one of the leading causes of poverty — has decreased the October rate
in Florida and our region remained in double-digits, at 10.3 percent.
has unemployment been so high for so long, as "60 Minutes" reported.
Local social-service workers tell us that the long-term impacts of
joblessness continue to send substantial numbers of families into
homelessness or to the brink of peril.
have been hit particularly hard by the lingering effects of the
recession; Nearly 25 percent of youths nationwide live in poverty.
economic recovery that generates job growth — in all economic sectors —
would go a long way toward easing the crisis. That said, homelessness
is likely to persist: The Homeless Research Institute projects that the
percentage of homeless Americans 65 and older will increase by 33
percent by 2020 and more than double by 2050.
the meantime, levels of public assistance should be held steady —
rather than decreased. Proposed 25 percent decreases in federal-state
Community Development Block Grants, a key funding source for the
prevention of homelessness, are unacceptable. Funding of Florida's
Sadowski Affordable Housing Act should be restored.
aid must increase to fill persistent gaps. Locally, faith-based and
secular charities give generously but, in this era, those contributions
Community-based efforts must also expand and, just as important, become even more efficient.
are encouraging signs that a local effort, which attracted about 600
participants in Sarasota County, to create a comprehensive approach to
ending — or, at least, mitigating — homelessness will result in a Dec.
21 report that calls for improved cooperation and information-sharing
among service providers. We hope the release of the report and its
recommendation lead donors to consider requiring recipient agencies in
Manatee and Sarasota counties to participate in the computerized
Homeless Management Information System.
similar report, issued five years ago in Manatee County, helped focus
the community's social-service agencies and led to the creation of a
"one-stop," homeless-aid center in Bradenton — the kind of facility
desperately needed in South Sarasota County.
Manatee found, a good report and responsive state and local
partnerships don't solve the problems associated with poverty and
homelessness. But such steps can help the Hard Times Generation and
generations to follow — if they are accompanied by informed action and
sustained contributions by the private and public sectors.
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