A priority to provide shelter

America, we have a problem. And with our reputation as a land of milk, honey and money, it’s a bit surprising — and more than a little frightening.
The community nonprofit Bridgehouse and Marks House homeless shelters in Lompoc are closed. Officials of the Lompoc Housing Community Development Corp. (LHCDC), which operates the shelters, aren’t saying much about the closure, but it’s safe to assume it’s because of funding problems.
The closure of the two shelters is almost certainly tied to the LHCDC’s larger financial situation, which is deteriorating to the point that the organization is selling off managed properties, a preamble to dissolution.
Whatever the reasons, they’d be hard to explain to a child in a family that has no place to live. The two shelters have been providing a warm, dry place to sleep for dozens of area homeless people, including several entire families.
Where they go now is anyone’s guess. There is another shelter in the Lompoc area, but it’s capacity is limited, and castoffs from Bridgehouse and Marks House will be allowed to stay there only through next Sunday.
It wasn’t so many years ago that communities across America quietly devised strategies to rid their streets of homeless people, who were largely considered to be substance-abusing derelicts, mostly men.
Time and circumstances have changed that sad profile into something profoundly more disturbing — hard-working, conscientious married couples who have lost their jobs and their homes, moving from city to city in search of shelter. It’s the kind of nomadic nightmare you might associate with the Great Depression, not with America in 2012.
California welfare officials report that the army of homeless families receiving state help is growing several times faster than the rest of the poor population. And this meteoric growth occurs at the same time the state’s chronic budget problems are forcing a reduction in the amount of monthly welfare that is available.
If that’s not scary enough, should Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for the state’s next fiscal period win approval, CalWorks, California’s principal welfare delivery program, will lose another $1 billion in funding.
Nationally, homelessness is growing by leaps and bounds, with an estimated 20,000 newly disenfranchised Americans added each year. The biggest population jump within the group is occurring with families, the category that is growing nearly twice as fast as single homeless persons.
As a nation, we pride ourselves on being defenders of democracy and humanity, yet four out of every 10 homeless people in this country do not live in shelters, but instead find a bridge to crawl under or a vehicle to sleep in at night. In some states, the percentage of homeless people who have no access to shelter during the winter months is growing exponentially.
And however stunning the data on homelessness may seem, the reality of the situation is even worse. Census Bureau officials say the homeless population is the most difficult to count — because so many of them are hard to find or don’t want to be counted.
Publicly funded shelters are one answer to the problem. But when public funding disappears, too many individuals and families come face to face with their worst fear — the approach of a cold, damp night, with no place to sleep.
All of us who do have that warm place to sleep need to think about those who don’t. Candidates for public office can talk about fiscal responsibility all they like, but the simple truth is our policy makers have a responsibility to help protect all Americans from the personal tragedy of not having shelter.
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