Unheard and Unseen: The Plight of America's Homeless Poor

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With the rare exception of a special report produced by educational television channels and shown sandwiched between reruns late at night, we seldom see the faces of America's enormous homeless population. They live their street lives in decaying downtowns and slum districts, hidden from our daily commute between work and the suburbs. I live in the Los Angeles County section of Southern California. Within my one county are more than 90,000 people who have nowhere to call home. Like most of my neighbors, I never use public transportation or visit the poorer areas. Unless I make a special effort, I never see the thousands on the sidewalks. It is only when disaster strikes a poor area that the country sees the face of poverty. After Andrew in southern Florida and Katrina on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, the omnipresent television cameras caught a glimpse of what it is like to be poor in America. We saw the faces of the forgotten lined up in the Superdome and had to admit that the national dream of success and a comfortable lifestyle does not extend to everyone. There are those who believe that the poor bring on their own misery. That anyone with any motivation would be able to work themselves out of the mess. Certainly there are thousands of homeless who have drifted away from the larger society because of drugs or mental illness, the have-nots who fail to qualify for the treatment and rehabilitation programs established for the more fortunate. Many thousand more are simply victims of domestic violence, illness, structural unemployment, or a series of events that devastated their former working or middle class lives. Many thousands are simply the working poor. Lacking skills and contacts, they trudge daily to minimum wage, low level positions: motel maid, security guard, custodian, waitress, or day labor. The minimum wage is a social farce for a single individual, never mind someone with children or family to support. Can Congress or the Administration explain how someone clearing less than $200 per week can feed and clothe themselves and their family and yet set aside enough money for even the cheapest apartment? Can the finest financial minds in the country calculate how to pay first and last month rent and a security deposit when there are only pennies left at the end of the week? Yet President Bush moved to suspend the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act for the rebuilding of New Orleans. Is it his theory that the poor don't deserve the protection of prevailing wages so he can use that money to protect them from terrorism? The poor and the homeless don't even think about a bomber at an airport or what's happening in the Middle East. They have more pressing concerns such as where is their next meal coming from, how can they educate their children, and where would be the safest place to spend the night. And the oil companies, with their already obscene profits, get a tax break. Where are we heading, folks?

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