fwd: hardship in the midst of plenty (fwd)

P. Myers (mpwr@u.washington.edu)
Sat, 8 Aug 1998 09:04:21 -0700 (PDT)

from another listfriend.  pat myers

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Date: Sat, 8 Aug 1998 10:38:51 -0400
Subject: fwd:  hardship in the midst of plenty (fwd)

Hardship in the midst of plenty

Philip Alston

Throughout history, homelessness has been a haunting human fear. In every
century, disasters, whether the result of human actions or of nature, have
left behind troops of wanderers: men, women and children with no space to
claim as their own. While it might be tempting to assume that homelessness is
tied to a specific catastrophic event such as war or famine, today it is a
stark reality in some of the world's wealthiest countries.

Many people living in the industrialized world have no place to sleep tonight,
had no place last night and will have no place tomorrow night. In their dozens
or hundreds or thousands, they drift along the streets of large, prosperous
cities, often with babies in their arms, seeking warmth, safety and stability
that are increasingly hard for them to find.

Several studies show the extent of the homelessness problem. For example, it
is estimated that there are about 3 million people in the 15 countries of the
European Union who do not have a permanent home. While Germany does not survey
homelessness, a non-governmental organization estimated that more than 850,000
people were homeless in the country, of whom only a third were immigrants.

However, the problem is not limited to the European Union: On any given night,
three quarters of a million people in the United States are homeless; in
Toronto, Canada's largest city, 6,500 people stayed in emergency shelters on a
typical night in late 1997, a two-thirds increase in just one year.

Because they are, on average, poorer than men, women can wind up on the
streets. If she is on her own, if she heads a family or is trying desperately
to escape from violence and abuse in her own home, a woman faces especially
grim prospects. For example, it is estimated that in the United Kingdom,
almost half of working women do not earn enough to afford the rent on even a
one-bedroom unit. In the United States, women head about one third of all
families, but half of all impoverished families.

Furthermore, an 11-city survey carried out in the United States shows that, on
average, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment would require hourly
wages of $10.73 -- more than twice the current minimum wage of $5.15 --
assuming one third of income is allocated to rent. And it is women who are
over-represented in precisely the low-status, service-sector jobs that pay
minimum wage.

While there are few statistics on the homeless -- in census-taking they often,
quite literally, don't count -- many of the documented homeless are children,
including the very young. In the United States in 1996, 5.5 million children
were living in poverty, and it is reasonable to surmise that a goodly number
of them were relegated to the streets.

The German study referred to earlier showed that a third of the homeless were
children or adolescents, while estimates suggest that almost 250,000 young
people between 16 and 24 became homeless in the United Kingdom within a single
year, 1995.

In Australia, an estimated 21,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 18
are homeless at any one time.

And in the past 20 years, in many industrialized countries, the number of
single-parent, especially mother-led, families has increased, with a large
percentage living below the poverty line, particularly in Australia, Canada
and the United States.

According to article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, "States
Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate
for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development." By
its nature, homelessness denies every one of those rights.

Homeless young people are twice as likely as others to suffer from such
chronic diseases as respiratory or ear infections, gastrointestinal disorders
and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. In the United States, a
homeless girl in her early teens is 14 times more likely to become pregnant
than a girl with a home. In Belgium, half of the homeless people in shelters
had dropped out of school during or immediately after primary school. In
Germany, 8 of 10 homeless people living in shelters completed only primary
education or had no schooling at all, while in Luxembourg, the figure is 9 out
of 10.