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Vocapedia > USA > Economy > The homeless




A homeless woman, Catherine,

who declined to give her surname,

in a waiting area at La Guardia Airport.


Over the years,

advocates and civil rights groups

have successfully challenged attempts

to oust or block homeless people.



Ángel Franco/The New York Times


Among Travelers and Commuters,

the Homeless Stop In and Stay


APRIL 18, 2016

















Glen Fox, 75,

who has been homeless off and on for years,

lives in a tent next to the Harbor Freeway.


The average life span

for a homeless person living on the street

is 64 years.



Monica Almeida/The New York Times


Old and on the Street:

The Graying of America’s Homeless


MAY 31, 2016


















A man seeking shelter at a bus stop

in St. Louis on Monday night.



Whitney Curtis for The New York Times


America’s Cities Could House Everyone, if They Chose To

Our housing crisis is a symptom of America’s wealth,

and its indifference.


May 15, 2020



















Beverly McKinney, 63,

sleeps in her wheelchair

at St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda, Ca.,

because a knee injury prevents her

from sleeping on the floor, she said.


Her possessions include two blankets,

food, spare clothes and her husband's ashes.


She has been homeless since his death in Aug.



Mindy Schauer/Associated Press/Orange County Regsiter


Boston Globe >  Big Picture

Homelessness around the world

December 14, 2011


















Ralph McCarroll, a 64-year-old homeless man,

was treated for injuries from a fall the previous night.



Monica Almeida/The New York Times


Aloha and Welcome to Paradise. Unless You’re Homeless.


JUNE 3, 2016























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































The homeless Popeyes worker fighting for fair wages in Missouri        G        21 August 2017





The homeless Popeyes worker fighting for fair wages in Missouri        Video        The Guardian        21 August 2017

















Relapse or Homelessness: Addicts' Choice        NYT        2 June 2015





Relapse or Homelessness: Addicts' Choice        Video        The New York Times        Video        2 June 2015


Daniel Puff, a recovering drug addict,

is caught in an unregulated housing system,

known as “three-quarter” housing,

that preys on the vulnerable homeless.


Produced by:

Mona El-Naggar, Channon Hodge and Kim Barker

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1STSAtE

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video



















Hotel 22        NYT        30 January 2015





Hotel 22        Video        Op-Docs | The New York Times        30 January 2015


In Silicon Valley,

the region’s homeless use a 24-hour bus line

as a shelter at night.


Produced by: Elizabeth Lo


This is part of a series of videos

produced by Independent filmmakers,

who are supported in part

by the nonprofit Sundance Institute.


Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1y6cK6M

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video





















Matt Bors


Idiot Box


11 October 2010

























tiny home










Project HOME













USA > homeless        UK / USA



























































but-thousands-of-people-dont-have-one - March 25, 2020


after-housing-authorities-delayed-paperwork - March 24, 2020





















































































https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtiXUxjaTBo - G - 21 August 2017














































































































































































youth homeless        USA










homeless person        USA










USA > Los Angeles > homeless people    UK










homeless people



























homeless people > rural areas










1990s > NYC, USA, homeless people living in tunnels        UK










USA > homeless population        UK / USA






















homeless homicide victims










homeless crisis










homelessness crisis










the homeless











































homeless girls










homeless teens










old and homeless










rural homeless / rural America: homeless population












homeless trans youth










USA > homeless camp        UK / USA
















homeless encampments












homeless pupils










homeless students














homeless rates










be down and out





































































USA > homelessness        UK / USA






















but-thousands-of-people-dont-have-one - March 25, 2020





















































































































story/story.php?storyId=131196031 - November 10, 2010













hidden homelessness










decline into homelessness










tackle homelessness













street homelessness










live on the street










chronic homelessness










family homelessness










veteran homelessness










homeless veterans / vets





















address homelessness






fight homelessness






combat homelessness






end homelessness






fighting homelessness






National Law Center

on Homelessness and Poverty






New York City Department of Homeless Services








homelessness charity





affordable housing

























shelters / homeless shelters



















































































day centre



























































panhandling bans

















be evicted






rough sleeper





street sleeper





people sleeping on the streets





1990s > NYC, USA, homeless people living in tunnels        UK






a life out on the streets











live in makeshift tents






live in a van









USA > downtown Los Angeles > Skid Row

old nickname : Hobo Corner














cardboard cities





cardboard boxes






























live on the street





conditions > trench foot, frostbite






heat wave

















die from exposure








die from hunger










Corpus of news articles


Economy > The homeless > USA




City Acts Quickly

Amid Sharp Rise

in Homelessness


August 10, 2012

The New York Times



The homeless population in New York City has jumped sharply over the last year, causing a record number of people to enter the shelter system. The increase has forced the Bloomberg administration to open nine more shelters in just the last two months — sometimes with only a few weeks’ notice to surrounding neighborhoods.

The administration said the increase stemmed in part from the end of the city’s main rent-subsidy program for homeless families. But the new shelters — five in the Bronx, two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn — have provoked criticism from local officials who say they were blindsided by the decisions to open them.

The city, for example, relied upon its emergency authority to turn two residential buildings on 95th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan into shelters that will eventually house about 200 adult couples, officials said. The buildings had recently been used as illegal hotels before they were shut down, and they still have some long-term tenants.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services told the community board about its plan in mid-July, only two weeks before people began moving in.

The commissioner of homeless services, Seth Diamond, said in an interview that the city had no choice but to open the shelters, given the demand. The city recorded 43,731 homeless people (25,475 adults and 18,256 children) in the shelter system this week, up 18 percent from the 37,143 (21,807 adults and 15,336 children) a year ago, officials said. “We do have to move quickly, and we have to always make sure that we have enough capacity,” Mr. Diamond said. “The one thing we cannot do is have families come in and not have a place for them.”

Mr. Diamond said he did not believe that his department had deceived neighborhoods by opening shelters with little notice, saying the process for picking the sites had been done “always with community communication.”

The administration is not legally obligated to get the approval of community boards before opening shelters, but its policy requires it to tell them of its plans ahead of time.

Of the nine new shelters, the city opened three, including the two in Manhattan, under its emergency authority, giving little notice before proceeding. Several of the other shelters were opened under normal practices but officials had moved quickly. The city told a community board in the Bronx this week that a 50-unit homeless shelter would open within days.

By law, the city is obligated to supply shelter to people who have nowhere else to go, though there are limits to how long they can stay.

The current shelter census is the highest ever, officials said; the number does not represent the total homeless population in the city, because some people avoid the shelter system.

Local officials and neighborhood leaders acknowledged the need for the shelters, but said the Bloomberg administration had moved too abruptly.

Several elected officials sponsored a protest this week in front of the 95th Street buildings, which are side by side between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The buildings are privately owned, and the city is paying roughly $3,300 a unit a month, with two or three people living in each unit.

Manhattan’s borough president, Scott M. Stringer, said, “This is no way to meet the needs of vulnerable citizens in this city by simply packing in hundreds and hundreds of people in the dead of night without a long-range plan.”

Asked what the alternative should be, Mr. Stringer, a Democrat who is likely to run for mayor next year, said, “Well, that is the conundrum.” He added: “You still need to come to various constituencies to support a long-term policy to meet a need that is expanding. It’s easy to throw 400 people in a community without doing your homework.”

Other community leaders said they feared that the administration was rushing to find beds for homeless people without first ensuring that there were adequate social services for them. If not properly supervised, they said, the shelters can become rife with drugs and crime.

“It isn’t because we don’t want them in our backyard,” said Mark N. Diller, who is chairman of Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side. “It’s that we don’t want a failure in our backyard.”

A 10-year resident of one of the buildings, Masako Koga, 48, said she noticed new security guards on Monday and was then informed for the first time that homeless people would soon be moving in. “There are so many vacant rooms, though, so I knew it would be coming soon,” Ms. Koga said.

Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless, said a weak economy and rising housing costs were major factors underlying the rise in homelessness, particularly for black and Hispanic families.

“We’re facing the prospect of more and more shelters opening in the city,” Mr. Markee said, “and that creates bad incentives for landlords to push out low-income tenants in favor of doing deals with D.H.S.”

There are 228 homeless shelters in the city, up from 211 in June 2010. A vast majority of them are privately run and financed by the Department of Homeless Services.

The Bloomberg administration acknowledged that the end of Advantage, which was the city’s signature program to combat homelessness, had played a significant role in the increase in homelessness. The program gave subsidies to homeless families for up to two years to help pay for their apartments if they were employed. Some families who exhausted their Advantage benefits are now back in the shelter system.

The city said last year that it was discontinuing the program because the state was dropping its financial support.

“We are in a very difficult environment with a very successful program that ended very abruptly,” Mr. Diamond, the homeless services commissioner, said. “At that point, we said the result would be a significant increase in the homeless population. The tragedy of losing Advantage was not just that we lost it, but that we lost it at a time when money was so tight that it was almost impossible to get it back.”

Tayna Munoz, 29, said that she had had an Advantage subsidy for two years, and that once her eligibility ended, she continued in her job as an assistant in a dentist’s office. But a few months later, she lost her position, leaving her unable to afford all the rent and support her 8-year-old daughter.

Evicted from their apartment, she went to the Homelessness Department’s Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing office in the Bronx to apply for shelter.

“My plan was to get help and save to get my own apartment,” Ms. Munoz said outside the office. “Right now, it’s not easy.”

City Acts Quickly Amid Sharp Rise in Homelessness,






Anna Lou Dehavenon,

Who Drew Attention

to the Homeless,

Dies at 85


February 29, 2012

The New York Times



Anna Lou Dehavenon, an urban anthropologist, was documenting the lives of women living in a Bronx homeless shelter in the 1980s when she had an epiphany.

She had just determined that the median age of women at the shelter was 26, and that the median number of children of the women was 2, when she suddenly remembered the day her own life was turned upside down — when she, too, was 26 and the mother of two.

It was Oct. 29, 1953, the day her husband, William Kapell, one of his generation’s most brilliant pianists, died in a plane crash at the age of 31. He was returning to the United States from a tour of Australia when the plane struck King’s Mountain south of San Francisco, killing all 19 on board.

Mr. Kapell, who had spent a small fortune transporting his chosen pianos to concerts, left his widow little. And she, having dropped her own career as a promising pianist to raise a family, found herself with no income and no college degree. If she wasn’t exactly homeless, she was the closest thing to it.

At the Bronx shelter, Dr. Dehavenon saw how much she had in common with the women she was studying, and how her own experience had motivated her choice of career.

“I’m thinking, my God, that’s one of the reasons I’m so concerned,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2005. “Freud would have had a wonderful time with it. Subconsciously, my own experience fed into it.”

With help, she rebuilt her life and went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, becoming a respected authority on poverty, hunger and homelessness in New York City. She died at 85 on Tuesday at a nursing home in Greenport, on Long Island, her son David Kapell said.

Dr. Dehavenon’s influence came from the strength of the statistics and empirical observations she collected as an urban anthropologist doing studies for private social welfare groups. Her reports were read closely by government agencies, judicial officials and the news media, and her research influenced a 1979 landmark ruling that affirmed a right to shelter in New York City.

She was as much an advocate as she was an observer. One organization she started was called the Action Research Project on Hunger.

“Are people starving?” Dr. Dehavenon asked rhetorically in 1988. “I don’t really use that kind of language. We can’t ever see hunger, because it’s a subjective experience. But we can build a case inferring that people here are suffering from hunger, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Starting in 1978, Dr. Dehavenon produced annual studies on hunger for the East Harlem Interfaith Welfare Committee, an alliance of seven religious, voluntary organizations she helped form. She had been raised a Presbyterian and embraced Buddhism.

Using social science research techniques, Dr. Dehavenon found that more and more Harlem residents went hungry each year, some of them relying on what they could steal, others sifting through garbage to feed their families.

She traced the causes to cuts in federal assistance and an eagerness by New York City officials to bump people from public assistance rolls. She titled her 1985 report “The Tyranny of Indifference.”

Dr. Dehavenon focused increasingly on homelessness as the problem surged in the 1980s. Her analyses contributed to the litigation in a class-action suit brought by the Legal Aid Society on behalf of a group of homeless families. It led to the ruling, by a State Supreme Court justice, ordering New York City to provide shelter to all homeless families.

“In the society’s court papers, she recounted her weekly observations of case after case of families who had been left without shelter,” said Jane Bock, senior staff attorney for the society’s Homeless Rights Project. Dr. Dehavenon’s expert testimony about families living in filth led to contempt rulings against the city, Ms. Bock said.

When the Community Service Society presented Dr. Dehavenon with its highest award in 1990, it said, “Her research has been instrumental in forcing critical changes in social policy in New York City.”

Rebecca Ann Lou Melson was born on Nov. 24, 1926, in Bellingham, Wash., and soon showed a gift for the piano. After two years at Reed College in Portland, Ore., she moved to Chicago to study at DePaul University with Sergei Tarnovsky, who had taught Vladimir Horowitz in Russia. She met Mr. Kapell when he performed in Chicago, and they married in 1948.

After Mr. Kapell’s death, family friends helped her find an apartment. She met Gaston T. de Havenon, an art dealer, and married him in 1955. (She adopted a slightly different rendering of the surname.) They had two children, and with his two children from an earlier marriage and her two with Mr. Kapell, she acted as mother for six. She divorced Mr. de Havenon in 1974, having grown bored with being a homemaker, she told The Times.

At 40, she started taking classes at Columbia University’s School of General Studies. One teacher, the anthropologist Marvin Harris, who was known for finding practical explanations for human behavior, had students videotape the behavior of a range of people, from garbage collectors to the Macy’s Santa Claus.

Ms. Dehavenon continued to use videotape in her doctoral studies of hunger, recording the behavior of families, in some cases as they ran out of food. She spoke of being moved by an unemployed father in East Harlem who had borrowed $10 from his sister and spent three days comparing prices before buying a Thanksgiving turkey.

After receiving her doctorate in 1978, she taught on and off at both the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine throughout her career.

Besides her son David, she is survived by another son, Alexander; her daughters Rebecca Ellen Kapell Leigh and Sarah Alicia de Havenon Fowler; her stepsons Michael and Andre, and 10 grandchildren.

Dr. Dehavenon strove to keep Mr. Kapell’s memory alive by helping to publish his diaries and issue new recordings of his music. In one instance, by a circuitous route, she unexpectedly received CD copies of some forgotten acetate-disc recordings of Mr. Kapell’s last concerts, performed in Australia in 1953. A Melbourne department store salesman, who had since died, had recorded them from radio broadcasts.

The found music led to the release in 2008 of the two-disc album “Kapell Rediscovered: The Australian Broadcasts,” by Sony BMG Masterworks.

In a 2004 radio interview in Australia, Dr. Dehavenon said she still got goose flesh when she heard Mr. Kapell’s music. There are times, she said, “when music can speak but words can’t speak.”

Anna Lou Dehavenon, Who Drew Attention to the Homeless, Dies at 85,






Ex-Basketball Prodigy

Dies on Streets Where He Lived


September 15, 2011
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Lewis Brown, a high school and college basketball prodigy who spent the past 10 years living on a sidewalk in Hollywood, seemed on the verge of a second chance. He had scraped enough money together to get a California identification card so he could fly to visit a sister in New York who had thought him dead. Friends said that he would finally get off the street.

That was on Tuesday. But Wednesday, around 6 a.m., Mr. Brown, breathless and frantic, was pleading for someone to call an ambulance. By the time help arrived, Mr. Brown — 300 pounds, 6 feet 11 inches — was lying on the ground. A half-hour of efforts by four paramedics — as his neighborhood friends shouted: “Come on, Big Lew! You can make it” — could not save him.

For Mr. Brown — a star high school center who once seemed destined for a spot in the N.B.A. — all that was left on Thursday was a Staples shopping cart carrying a few of his possessions: a pair of sneakers, a blanket, a laminated copy of a New York Times article from this year that detailed his sad story of decline, bitterness, drug arrests and missed opportunities. The remainder of his belongings — a mattress, some tattered clothes — had been put into a Dumpster.

Throughout the day, people who had known Mr. Brown, 56, from the neighborhood, where he would wash windows and talk about his lost basketball past in Compton and at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, stopped as they learned of his death. Tony Chauncey, a Time Warner Cable worker, said he had seen him last month and told him that he was going to a hospital to be checked for a reappearance of cancer.

“We hugged,” Mr. Chauncey said. “He said: ‘I’m giving you my healing prayer. You are going to be O.K.” Two weeks later, Mr. Chauncey said, he learned that he was free of cancer. “His last words to me were: ‘See. I told you I’m a spiritual man. Now give me $3!’ ”

Michael Kaiping, who works at a special effects rental company on the block where Mr. Brown lived, said Mr. Brown told him two weeks ago that he had raised most of the money toward his ID card so he could visit his sister, Anita, and asked to borrow $11.

“Lewis said his sister told him she needs him,” Mr. Kaiping said. “I always thought it would be very good for him to get off the streets.”

“I didn’t mind throwing him a few bucks,” he said. “He had every intention of giving me back that $11.”

Stephen Turner, who played basketball with Mr. Brown in Compton and recognized him washing windows at a gas station last year, said he would try to organize a memorial service.

Mr. Brown was long estranged from his family, though his mother had said, upon learning from a Times reporter that he was alive, that she wanted to see him before she died. Mr. Turner said the two had spoken by phone but she had not had a chance to see him in person before his sudden death.

A second sister, Jeri, who lives in Compton, had not had seen him after he resurfaced. “I pray for the best outcome for my brother,” she said after learning of his death. “God’s will is done.”

Ex-Basketball Prodigy Dies on Streets Where He Lived, NYT, 15.9.2011,






When Home Has No Place to Park


October 3, 2010
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Every day, Diane Butler and her husband park their two hand-painted R.V.’s in a lot at the edge of Venice Beach here, alongside dozens of other rickety, rusted campers from the 1970s and ’80s. During the day, she sells her artwork on the boardwalk. When the parking lot closes at sunset, she and the other R.V.-dwellers drive a quarter-mile inland to find somewhere on the street to park for the night.

Their nomadic existence might be ending, though. The Venice section of Los Angeles has become the latest California community to enact strict new regulations limiting street parking and banning R.V.’s from beach lots — regulations that could soon force Ms. Butler, 58, to leave the community where she has lived for four decades.

“They’re making it hard for people in vehicles to remain in Venice,” she said.

Southern California, with its forgiving weather, has long been a popular destination for those living in vehicles and other homeless people. And for decades, people living in R.V.’s, vans and cars have settled in Venice, the beachfront Los Angeles community once known as the “Slum by the Sea” and famous for its offbeat, artistic culture.

Yet even as the economic downturn has forced more people out of their homes and into their cars, vehicle-dwellers are facing fewer options, with more communities trying to push them out.

As nearby neighborhoods and municipalities passed laws restricting overnight parking in recent years, Venice became the center of vehicle dwelling in the region. More than 250 vehicles now serve as shelter on Venice streets, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“The only place between Santa Barbara and San Diego where campers can park seven blocks from the beach is this little piece of land,” said City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Venice. “Over the years, it’s only gotten worse, as every other community along the coast has adopted restrictions.”

In the past, bohemian Venice was tolerant of vehicle-dwellers, but, increasingly, the proliferation of R.V.’s in this gentrifying neighborhood has prompted efforts to remove them.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” said Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, a group of residents devoted to removing R.V.’s from the area. “It’s time to give us some relief from R.V.’s parking on our doorsteps.”

A bitter debate has raged between residents who want to get rid of R.V.’s and those who want to combat the problems of homelessness in the community by offering safe places to park and access to public bathrooms. Last year, residents voted to establish overnight parking restrictions, but the California Coastal Commission twice vetoed the plan.

However, a recent incident involving an R.V. owner’s arrest on charges of dumping sewage into the street has accelerated efforts to remove vehicle-dwellers. Starting this week, oversize vehicles will be banned from the beach parking lots; an ordinance banning them from parking on the street overnight could take effect within a month.

While Mr. Rosendahl supported parking restrictions, he has also secured $750,000 from the city to pay for a pilot program to house R.V.-dwellers. Modeled after efforts in Santa Barbara and Eugene, Ore., the Vehicles to Homes program will offer overnight parking for vehicle-dwellers who agree to meet certain conditions, with the goal of moving participants into permanent housing.

“For people who want help, we’ll support them,” Mr. Rosendahl said. “The others can take their wheels and go up the coast or somewhere else, God bless them. It’s not our responsibility to be the only spot where near-homelessness is dealt with in the state of California.”

While some have expressed interest in the program, many said they did not want to subject themselves to curfews and oversight or had no means or desire to return to renting. Mr. Ryavec believes few will participate.

“I will not debate that some people are mentally ill, indigent or drugged out,” Mr. Ryavec said. “But my stance is that the bulk of these people are making a lifestyle choice.”

Still, according to Gary L. Blasi, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an activist on homeless issues, most people choose to live in vehicles only when the alternative is sleeping in a shelter or on the street.

“The idea of carefree vagabonds is statistically false,” Professor Blasi said. “More often, these are people who lived in apartments in Venice before they lived in R.V.’s. The reason for losing housing is usually the loss of a job or some health care crisis.”

Even if all the vehicle-dwellers in Venice wanted to participate, the pilot program will accommodate only a small fraction of them. In Southern California, though, there may not be anywhere else R.V.’s can legally park. According to Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, ordinances banning R.V.’s have spread from metropolitan areas into the suburbs as vehicle-dwellers venture farther afield in search of somewhere to sleep.

“Communities are now forming a patchwork of ordinances, which virtually prohibits a geographic cure to the situation,” Mr. Donovan said. “If you’re in a community and they tell you to leave, you can’t just go to the next community, because they establish similar ordinances, especially in California.”

Mr. Donovan said vehicle-dwellers often end up on the street after their vehicles are towed or become inoperable. When his organization surveyed tent camps in California, they found that many residents had come from R.V.’s.

Vehicle-dwellers in Venice are now considering their options, but few expressed any intention of leaving.

“They can keep throwing more laws at us, but we’re not just going to go away,” said Mario Manti-Gualtiero, who lost his job as an audio engineer and now lives in an R.V. “We can’t just evaporate.”

    When Home Has No Place to Park, NYT, 3.10.2010,






At East Village Food Pantry,

the Price Is a Sermon


September 28, 2010
The New York Times


The shopping carts are lined up hours early in Tompkins Square Park, not far from the dog run, where the East Village’s more genteel residents are unleashing retrievers and beagles and chatting animatedly. The poor or elderly waiting on benches to get the free food that comes with a dose of the Gospel seem more lost in their own thoughts, even though many meet every Tuesday.

A guard, Mike Luke, a powerhouse known as Big Mike who himself was a consumer at church pantries until he found religion and decided to work for “the man upstairs,” manages the crowd with crisp authority until the 11 a.m. service starts across the street at the Tompkins Square Gospel Fellowship. There is nervous tension because only the first 50 will get in, and suddenly two women are squabbling over a black cart.

“How do you know that’s your cart?” Big Mike firmly asks one, a fair question since the carts look alike. But the mystery is cleared up with the discovery of an orphaned gray cart.

Inside the worship hall, the 50 men and women sit in neat rows in front of a pulpit and a painting of a generic waterfall while a pianist softly plays hymns. Their carts are reassembled in neat rows as well.

The room has the shopworn air of Sergeant Sarah Brown’s Save-a-Soul Mission in “Guys and Dolls.” One almost expects Stubby Kaye to get up and sing “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” But people don’t mind having to sit through a sermon as the price of admission, and few have jobs they need to run to. While they wait, volunteers fill each cart with a couple of bread loaves — redolent of a Gospel miracle, except these are ciabatta and 10-grain — a couple of bananas, a couple of less-than-freshly-picked ears of corn, a box of eggs, a box of blueberries, even an Asian pear.

The food is donated by Trader Joe’s, the gourmet and organic food purveyor, which has a store nearby. It usually feeds the kinds of professionals who use the dog run, but it provides the fellowship with a wealth of unsold baked goods, fruit and vegetables.

The fellowship was started 115 years ago as a mission to the immigrant Jews of the Lower East Side but now mostly serves the black, Latino and Asian poor. The East Village has several other pantries that dispense food without sermons; their food is government-financed and so must be religion-free. The fellowship started its giveaways in January and now feeds 250 people during three services on Tuesdays — one in Chinese — and a single evening service on Sundays and Wednesdays.

The mission is run by the Rev. Bill Jones, a lively ordained Baptist minister from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

“People are not only hungry for food, but hungry for the word of God,” Mr. Jones said. “There’s not just a physical need but a spiritual need.”

Nevertheless, he is aware of the actual hunger. “If you wait for three hours to get $25 worth of groceries,” he said, “you have a need.”

He affirms that thought to the waiting crowd in a stentorian drawl.

“You all get blueberries today,” he announces. “Some of you get eggs. If you don’t get eggs, don’t be upset. You neighbor is getting eggs, so be grateful.”

The people who come include Rafael Mercado, 52, who lost his job as a mailroom clerk four years ago.

“I don’t have the kind of money now to go shopping,” he said, “so I go to many pantries.” Another is Asia Feliciano, 37, a single mother with a lush head of cornrow braids. She and her sons, Trevor, 5, and Jordan, 3, live in a nearby shelter, and they stumbled upon the mission in August while panhandling.

“It puts food on our plates every night,” she said.

Mr. Jones begins the service with a prayer — “Heavenly father, we are so grateful for the provisions you have brought us for another day.” He then offers a lesson from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells the disciples to love one another. With ardor that is not quite brimstone, Mr. Jones urges listeners to love one another as well, not give in to temptations and pray to remain faithful to God.

Many among the 50 sit stone-faced. But some clearly listen. Though she comes mostly for the food, Ms. Feliciano indicates that the worship has subversively taken hold.

“When I have to sit through the service, it opens my eyes,” she said. “So I started reading the Bible and I asked them for a Bible, and they gave me one.”

Jim Dwyer is on leave.

At East Village Food Pantry, the Price Is a Sermon,
NYT, 28.9.2010,






Number of Families in Shelters Rises


September 11, 2010
The New York Times


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For a few hours at the mall here this month, Nick Griffith, his wife, Lacey Lennon, and their two young children got to feel like a regular family again.

Never mind that they were just killing time away from the homeless shelter where they are staying, or that they had to take two city buses to get to the shopping center because they pawned one car earlier this year and had another repossessed, or that the debit card Ms. Lennon inserted into the A.T.M. was courtesy of the state’s welfare program.

They ate lunch at the food court, browsed for clothes and just strolled, blending in with everyone else out on a scorching hot summer day. “It’s exactly why we come here,” Ms. Lennon said. “It reminds us of our old life.”

For millions who have lost jobs or faced eviction in the economic downturn, homelessness is perhaps the darkest fear of all. In the end, though, for all the devastation wrought by the recession, a vast majority of people who have faced the possibility have somehow managed to avoid it.

Nevertheless, from 2007 through 2009, the number of families in homeless shelters — households with at least one adult and one minor child — leapt to 170,000 from 131,000, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

With long-term unemployment ballooning, those numbers could easily climb this year. Late in 2009, however, states began distributing $1.5 billion that has been made available over three years by the federal government as part of the stimulus package for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which provides financial assistance to keep people in their homes or get them back in one quickly if they lose them.

More than 550,000 people have received aid, including more than 1,800 in Rhode Island, with just over a quarter of the money for the program spent so far nationally, state and federal officials said.

Even so, it remains to be seen whether the program is keeping pace with the continuing economic hardship.

On Aug. 9, Mr. Griffith, 40, Ms. Lennon, 26, and their two children, Ava, 3, and Ethan, 16 months, staggered into Crossroads Rhode Island, a shelter that functions as a kind of processing and triage center for homeless families, after a three-day bus journey from Florida.

“It hit me when we got off the bus and walked up and saw the Crossroads building,” Ms. Lennon said. “We had all our stuff. We were tired. We’d already had enough, and it was just starting.”

The number of families who have sought help this year at Crossroads has already surpassed the total for all of 2009. Through July, 324 families had come needing shelter, compared with 278 all of last year.

National data on current shelter populations are not yet available, but checks with other major family shelters across the country found similar increases.

The Y.W.C.A. Family Center in Columbus, Ohio, one of the largest family shelters in the state, has seen an occupancy increase of more than 20 percent over the last three months compared with the same period last year. The UMOM New Day Center in Phoenix, the largest family shelter in Arizona, has had a more than 30 percent increase in families calling for shelter over the last few months.

Without national data, it is impossible to say for certain whether these are anomalies. Clearly, however, many families are still being sucked into the swirling financial drain that leads to homelessness.

The Griffith family moved from Rhode Island to Florida two years ago after Mr. Griffith, who was working as a waiter at an Applebee’s restaurant, asked to be transferred to one opening in Spring Hill, an hour north of Tampa, where he figured the cost of living would be lower.

He did well at first, earning as much as $25 an hour, including tips. He also got a job as a line cook at another restaurant, where he made $12 an hour.

The family eventually moved into a three-bedroom condominium and lived the typical suburban life, with a sport-utility vehicle and a minivan to cart around their growing family.

In January, however, the restaurant where Mr. Griffith was cooking closed. Then his hours began drying up at Applebee’s. The couple had savings, but squandered some of it figuring he would quickly find another job. When he did not, they were evicted from their condo.

They lived with Ms. Lennon’s mother at first in her one-bedroom house in Port Richey, Fla., but she made it clear after two months that the arrangement was no longer feasible. The family moved to an R.V. park, paying $186 a week plus utilities. By late July, however, they had mostly run out of options.

They called some 100 shelters in Florida and found that most were full; others would not allow them to stay together.

They considered returning to Rhode Island. An Applebee’s in Smithfield agreed to hire Mr. Griffith. They found Crossroads on the Internet and were assured of a spot. Using some emergency money they had left and $150 lent by relatives, they bought bus tickets to Providence.

Now, the family is crammed into a single room at Crossroads’ 15-room family shelter, which used to be a funeral home. All four sleep on a pair of single beds pushed together. There is a crib for Ethan, but with all the turmoil, he can now fall asleep only when next to his parents. A lone framed photograph of the couple, dressed up for a night out, sits atop a shelf.

The living conditions are only part of the adjustment; there is also the shelter’s long list of rules. No one can be in the living quarters from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The news is even off-limits as television programming in the common area. Residents were recently barred from congregating around the bench outside.

Infractions bring write-ups; three write-ups bring expulsion.

The changes have taken a toll on the family in small and large ways. Ethan has taken to screaming for no reason. Ava had been on the verge of being potty-trained, but is now back to diapers. Their nap schedules and diets are a mess. Their parents are squabbling more and have started smoking again.

Mr. Griffith found that he could work only limited hours at his new job because of the bus schedule. The family did qualify last week for transitional housing, but that usually takes a month to finalize. They are still pursuing rapid rehousing assistance.

Others at the shelter with no job prospects face a steeper climb meeting the requirements.

Every few days, new families arrive. A few hours after the Griffiths got back from the mall, a young woman pushing a stroller with a toddler rang the shelter doorbell, quietly weeping.

    Number of Families in Shelters Rises, NYT, 11.9.2010,






The Safety Net

Living on Nothing but Food Stamps


January 3, 2010
The New York Times


CAPE CORAL, Fla. — After an improbable rise from the Bronx projects to a job selling Gulf Coast homes, Isabel Bermudez lost it all to an epic housing bust — the six-figure income, the house with the pool and the investment property.

Now, as she papers the county with résumés and girds herself for rejection, she is supporting two daughters on an income that inspires a double take: zero dollars in monthly cash and a few hundred dollars in food stamps.

With food-stamp use at a record high and surging by the day, Ms. Bermudez belongs to an overlooked subgroup that is growing especially fast: recipients with no cash income.

About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.

“It’s the one thing I can count on every month — I know the children are going to have food,” Ms. Bermudez, 42, said with the forced good cheer she mastered selling rows of new stucco homes.

Members of this straitened group range from displaced strivers like Ms. Bermudez to weathered men who sleep in shelters and barter cigarettes. Some draw on savings or sporadic under-the-table jobs. Some move in with relatives. Some get noncash help, like subsidized apartments. While some go without cash incomes only briefly before securing jobs or aid, others rely on food stamps alone for many months.

The surge in this precarious way of life has been so swift that few policy makers have noticed. But it attests to the growing role of food stamps within the safety net. One in eight Americans now receives food stamps, including one in four children.

Here in Florida, the number of people with no income beyond food stamps has doubled in two years and has more than tripled along once-thriving parts of the southwest coast. The building frenzy that lured Ms. Bermudez to Fort Myers and neighboring Cape Coral has left a wasteland of foreclosed homes and written new tales of descent into star-crossed indigence.

A skinny fellow in saggy clothes who spent his childhood in foster care, Rex Britton, 22, hopped a bus from Syracuse two years ago for a job painting parking lots. Now, with unemployment at nearly 14 percent and paving work scarce, he receives $200 a month in food stamps and stays with a girlfriend who survives on a rent subsidy and a government check to help her care for her disabled toddler.

“Without food stamps we’d probably be starving,” Mr. Britton said.

A strapping man who once made a living throwing fastballs, William Trapani, 53, left his dreams on the minor league mound and his front teeth in prison, where he spent nine years for selling cocaine. Now he sleeps at a rescue mission, repairs bicycles for small change, and counts $200 in food stamps as his only secure support.

“I’ve been out looking for work every day — there’s absolutely nothing,” he said.

A grandmother whose voice mail message urges callers to “have a blessed good day,” Wanda Debnam, 53, once drove 18-wheelers and dreamed of selling real estate. But she lost her job at Starbucks this year and moved in with her son in nearby Lehigh Acres. Now she sleeps with her 8-year-old granddaughter under a poster of the Jonas Brothers and uses her food stamps to avoid her daughter-in-law’s cooking.

“I’m climbing the walls,” Ms. Debnam said.

Florida officials have done a better job than most in monitoring the rise of people with no cash income. They say the access to food stamps shows the safety net is working.

“The program is doing what it was designed to do: help very needy people get through a very difficult time,” said Don Winstead, deputy secretary for the Department of Children and Families. “But for this program they would be in even more dire straits.”

But others say the lack of cash support shows the safety net is torn. The main cash welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, has scarcely expanded during the recession; the rolls are still down about 75 percent from their 1990s peak. A different program, unemployment insurance, has rapidly grown, but still omits nearly half the unemployed. Food stamps, easier to get, have become the safety net of last resort.

“The food-stamp program is being asked to do too much,” said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group. “People need income support.”

Food stamps, officially the called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, have taken on a greater role in the safety net for several reasons. Since the benefit buys only food, it draws less suspicion of abuse than cash aid and more political support. And the federal government pays for the whole benefit, giving states reason to maximize enrollment. States typically share in other programs’ costs.

The Times collected income data on food-stamp recipients in 31 states, which account for about 60 percent of the national caseload. On average, 18 percent listed cash income of zero in their most recent monthly filings. Projected over the entire caseload, that suggests six million people in households with no income. About 1.2 million are children.

The numbers have nearly tripled in Nevada over the past two years, doubled in Florida and New York, and grown nearly 90 percent in Minnesota and Utah. In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, one of every 25 residents reports an income of only food stamps. In Yakima County, Wash., the figure is about one of every 17.

Experts caution that these numbers are estimates. Recipients typically report a small rise in earnings just once every six months, so some people listed as jobless may have recently found some work. New York officials say their numbers include some households with earnings from illegal immigrants, who cannot get food stamps but sometimes live with relatives who do.

Still, there is little doubt that millions of people are relying on incomes of food stamps alone, and their numbers are rapidly growing. “This is a reflection of the hardship that a lot of people in our state are facing; I think that is without question,” said Mr. Winstead, the Florida official.

With their condition mostly overlooked, there is little data on how long these households go without cash incomes or what other resources they have. But they appear an eclectic lot. Florida data shows the population about evenly split between families with children and households with just adults, with the latter group growing fastest during the recession. They are racially mixed as well — about 42 percent white, 32 percent black, and 22 percent Latino — with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.

The expansion of the food-stamp program, which will spend more than $60 billion this year, has so far enjoyed bipartisan support. But it does have conservative critics who worry about the costs and the rise in dependency.

“This is craziness,” said Representative John Linder, a Georgia Republican who is the ranking minority member of a House panel on welfare policy. “We’re at risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable getting by living off the government.”

Mr. Linder added: “You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around and not work. You improve the economy by lowering taxes” so small businesses will create more jobs.

With nearly 15,000 people in Lee County, Fla., reporting no income but food stamps, the Fort Myers area is a laboratory of inventive survival. When Rhonda Navarro, a cancer patient with a young son, lost running water, she ran a hose from an outdoor spigot that was still working into the shower stall. Mr. Britton, the jobless parking lot painter, sold his blood.

Kevin Zirulo and Diane Marshall, brother and sister, have more unlikely stories than a reality television show. With a third sibling paying their rent, they are living on a food-stamp benefit of $300 a month. A gun collector covered in patriotic tattoos, Mr. Zirulo, 31, has sold off two semiautomatic rifles and a revolver. Ms. Marshall, who has a 7-year-old daughter, scavenges discarded furniture to sell on the Internet.

They said they dropped out of community college and diverted student aid to household expenses. They received $150 from the Nielsen Company, which monitors their television. They grew so desperate this month, they put the breeding services of the family Chihuahua up for bid on Craigslist.

“We look at each other all the time and say we don’t know how we get through,” Ms. Marshall said.

Ms. Bermudez, by contrast, tells what until the recession seemed a storybook tale. Raised in the Bronx by a drug-addicted mother, she landed a clerical job at a Manhattan real estate firm and heard that Fort Myers was booming. On a quick scouting trip in 2002, she got a mortgage on easy terms for a $120,000 home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. The developer called the floor plan Camelot.

“I screamed, I cried,” she said. “I took so much pride in that house.”

Jobs were as plentiful as credit. Working for two large builders, she quickly moved from clerical jobs to sales and bought an investment home. Her income soared to $180,000, and she kept the pay stubs to prove it. By the time the glut set in and she lost her job, the teaser rates on her mortgages had expired and her monthly payments soared.

She landed a few short-lived jobs as the industry imploded, exhausted her unemployment insurance and spent all her savings. But without steady work in nearly three years, she could not stay afloat. In January, the bank foreclosed on Camelot.

One morning as the eviction deadline approached, Ms. Bermudez woke up without enough food to get through the day. She got emergency supplies at a food pantry for her daughters, Tiffany, now 17, and Ashley, 4, and signed up for food stamps. “My mother lived off the government,” she said. “It wasn’t something as a proud working woman I wanted to do.”

For most of the year, she did have a $600 government check to help her care for Ashley, who has a developmental disability. But she lost it after she was hospitalized and missed an appointment to verify the child’s continued eligibility. While she is trying to get it restored, her sole income now is $320 in food stamps.

Ms. Bermudez recently answered the door in her best business clothes and handed a reporter her résumé, which she distributes by the ream. It notes she was once a “million-dollar producer” and “deals well with the unexpected.”

“I went from making $180,000 to relying on food stamps,” she said. “Without that government program, I wouldn’t be able to feed my children.”


Matthew Ericson contributed research.

    Living on Nothing but Food Stamps, NYT, 3.1.2010,






The Safety Net

Across U.S.,

Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades


November 29, 2009
The New York Times


MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.

While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.

From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times.

The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.

In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.

While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.

Although the program is growing at a record rate, the federal official who oversees it would like it to grow even faster.

“I think the response of the program has been tremendous,” said Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture, “but we’re mindful that there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.”

Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” he said. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

The program’s growing reach can be seen in a corner of southwestern Ohio where red state politics reign and blue-collar workers have often called food stamps a sign of laziness. But unemployment has soared, and food stamp use in a six-county area outside Cincinnati has risen more than 50 percent.

With most of his co-workers laid off, Greg Dawson, a third-generation electrician in rural Martinsville, considers himself lucky to still have a job. He works the night shift for a contracting firm, installing freezer lights in a chain of grocery stores. But when his overtime income vanished and his expenses went up, Mr. Dawson started skimping on meals to feed his wife and five children.

He tried to fill up on cereal and eggs. He ate a lot of Spam. Then he went to work with a grumbling stomach to shine lights on food he could not afford. When an outreach worker appeared at his son’s Head Start program, Mr. Dawson gave in.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Mr. Dawson, 29, a taciturn man with a wispy goatee who is so uneasy about the monthly benefit of $300 that he has not told his parents. “I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like we really needed the help right now.”

The outreach worker is a telltale sign. Like many states, Ohio has campaigned hard to raise the share of eligible people collecting benefits, which are financed entirely by the federal government and brought the state about $2.2 billion last year.

By contrast, in the federal cash welfare program, states until recently bore the entire cost of caseload growth, and nationally the rolls have stayed virtually flat. Unemployment insurance, despite rapid growth, reaches about only half the jobless (and replaces about half their income), making food stamps the only aid many people can get — the safety net’s safety net.

Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor. President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has embraced.

The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

By the time the recession began, in December 2007, “the whole message around this program had changed,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that has supported food stamp expansions. “The general pitch was, ‘This program is here to help you.’ ”

Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs.

In the promotion of the program, critics see a sleight of hand.

“Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s really not different from cash welfare,” said Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Food stamps is quasi money.”

Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. “The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty,” he said.


Suburbs Are Hit Hard

Across the country, the food stamp rolls can be read like a scan of a sick economy. The counties of northwest Ohio, where car parts are made, take sick when Detroit falls ill. Food stamp use is up by about 60 percent in Erie County (vibration controls), 77 percent in Wood County (floor mats) and 84 percent in hard-hit Van Wert (shifting components and cooling fans).

Just west, in Indiana, Elkhart County makes the majority of the nation’s recreational vehicles. Sales have fallen more than half during the recession, and nearly 30 percent of the county’s children are receiving food stamps.

The pox in southwest Florida is the housing bust, with foreclosure rates in Fort Myers often leading the nation in the last two years. Across six contiguous counties from Manatee to Monroe, the food stamp rolls have more than doubled.

In sheer numbers, growth has come about equally from places where food stamp use was common and places where it was rare. Since 2007, the 600 counties with the highest percentage of people on the rolls added 1.3 million new recipients. So did the 600 counties where use was lowest.

The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household income in the South. (One author dubbed it “Whitopia.”) Food stamp use there has more than doubled.

This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle, including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County, where the rolls are up more than 50 percent.

While food stamp use is still the exception in places like Orange County (where 4 percent of the population get food aid), the program reaches deep in places of chronic poverty. It feeds half the people in stretches of white Appalachia, in a Yupik-speaking region of Alaska and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Across the 10 core counties of the Mississippi Delta, 45 percent of black residents receive aid. In a city as big as St. Louis, the share is 60 percent.

Use among children is especially high. A third of the children in Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee receive food aid. In the Bronx, the rate is 46 percent. In East Carroll Parish, La., three-quarters of the children receive food stamps.

A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.


Need Overcomes Scorn

Across the small towns and rolling farmland outside Cincinnati, old disdain for the program has collided with new needs. Warren County, the second-richest in Ohio, is so averse to government aid that it turned down a federal stimulus grant. But the market for its high-end suburban homes has sagged, people who build them are idle and food stamp use has doubled.

Next door, in Clinton County, the blow has been worse. DHL, the international package carrier, has closed most of its giant airfield, costing the county its biggest employer and about 7,500 jobs. The county unemployment rate nearly tripled, to more than 14 percent.

“We’re seeing people getting food stamps who never thought they’d get them,” said Tina Osso, the director of the Shared Harvest Food Bank in Fairfield, which runs an outreach program in five area counties.

While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.

Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.

He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.

Still, the program has filled the Dawsons’ home with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meat, and something they had not fully expected — an enormous sense of relief. “I know if I run out of milk, I could run down to the gas station,” said Mr. Dawson’s wife, Sheila.

As others here tell it, that is a benefit not to be overlooked.

Sarah and Tyrone Mangold started the year on track to make $70,000 — she was selling health insurance, and he was working on a heating and air conditioning crew. She got laid off in the spring, and he a few months later. Together they had one unemployment check and a blended family of three children, including one with a neurological disorder aggravated by poor nutrition.

They ate at his mother’s house twice a week. They pawned jewelry. She scoured the food pantry. He scrounged for side jobs. Their frustration peaked one night over a can of pinto beans. Each blamed the other when that was all they had to eat.

“We were being really snippy, having anxiety attacks,” Ms. Mangold said. “People get irritable when they’re hungry.”

Food stamps now fortify the family income by $623 a month, and Mr. Mangold, who is still patching together odd jobs, no longer objects.

“I always thought people on public assistance were lazy,” he said, “but it helps me know I can feed my kids.”


Shifting Views

So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth. Almost 90 percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four). But a minor tempest hit Ohio’s Warren County after a woman drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and cars, she qualified.

“I’m a hard-core conservative Republican guy — I found that appalling,” said Dave Young, a member of the county board of commissioners, which briefly threatened to withdraw from the federal program.

“As soon as people figure out they can vote representatives in to give them benefits, that’s the end of democracy,” Mr. Young said. “More and more people will be taking, and fewer will be producing.”

At the same time, the recession left Sandi Bernstein more sympathetic to the needy. After years of success in the insurance business, Ms. Bernstein, 66, had just settled into what she had expected to be a comfortable retirement when the financial crisis last year sent her brokerage accounts plummeting. Feeling newly vulnerable herself, she volunteered with an outreach program run by AARP and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.

Having assumed that poor people clamored for aid, she was surprised to find that some needed convincing to apply.“I come here and I see people who are knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed,” she said. “These are people I could be having lunch with.”

That could describe Franny and Shawn Wardlow, whose house in nearby Oregonia conjures middle-American stability rather than the struggle to meet basic needs. Their three daughters have heads of neat blond hair, pink bedroom curtains and a turtle bought in better times on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla. One wrote a fourth-grade story about her parents that concluded “They lived happily ever after.”

Ms. Wardlow, who worked at a nursing home, lost her job first. Soon after, Mr. Wardlow was laid off from the construction job he had held for nearly nine years. As Ms. Wardlow tells the story of the subsequent fall — cutoff threats from the power company, the dinners of egg noodles, the soap from the Salvation Army — she dwells on one unlikely symbol of the security she lost.

Pot roast.

“I was raised on eating pot roast,” she said. “Just a nice decent meal.”

Mr. Wardlow, 32, is a strapping man with a friendly air. He talked his way into a job at an envelope factory although his boss said he was overqualified. But it pays less than what he made muscling a jackhammer, and with Ms. Wardlow still jobless, they are two months behind on the rent. A monthly food stamp benefit of $429 fills the shelves and puts an occasional roast on the Sunday table.

It reminds Ms. Wardlow of what she has lost, and what she hopes to regain.

“I would consider us middle class at one time,” she said. “I like to have a nice decent meal for dinner.”


Matthew Ericson and Janet Roberts contributed reporting.

    Across U.S., Food Stamp Use Soars and Stigma Fades, NYT, 29.11.2009,






Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High


November 17, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food soared last year, to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” 14 years ago, the Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

The increase, of 13 million Americans, was much larger than even the most pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected and cast an alarming light on the daily hardships caused by the recession’s punishing effect on jobs and wages.

About a third of these struggling households had what the researchers called “very low food security,” meaning lack of money forced members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year.

The other two-thirds typically had enough to eat, but only by eating cheaper or less varied foods, relying on government aid like food stamps, or visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.

“These numbers are a wake-up call for the country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

One figure that drew officials’ attention was the number of households, 506,000, in which children faced “very low food security”: up from 323,000 the previous year. President Obama, who has pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015, released a statement while traveling in Asia that called the finding “particularly troubling.”

The ungainly phrase “food insecurity” stems from years of political and academic wrangling over how to measure adequate access to food. In the 1980s, when officials of the Reagan administration denied there was hunger in the United States, the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group, began a survey that concluded otherwise. Over time, Congress had the Agriculture Department oversee a similar survey, which the Census Bureau administers.

Though researchers at the Agriculture Department do not use the word “hunger,” Mr. Obama did. “Hunger rose significantly last year,” he said.

Analysts said the main reason for the growth was the rise in the unemployment rate, to 7.2 percent at the end of 2008 from 4.9 percent a year earlier. And since it now stands at 10.2 percent, the survey might in fact understate the number of Americans struggling to get adequate food.

Rising food prices, too, might have played a role.

The food stamp rolls have expanded to record levels, with 36 million Americans now collecting aid, an increase of nearly 40 percent from two years ago. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed last winter, raised the average monthly food stamp benefit per person by about 17 percent, to $133. Many states have made it easier for those eligible to apply, but rising applications and staffing cuts have also brought long delays.

Problems gaining access to food were highest in households with children headed by single mothers. About 37 percent of them reported some form of food insecurity compared with 14 percent of married households with children. About 29 percent of Hispanic households reported food insecurity, compared with 27 percent of black households and 12 percent of white households. Serious problems were most prevalent in the South, followed equally by the West and Midwest.

Some conservatives have attacked the survey’s methodology, saying it is hard to define what it measures. The 18-item questionnaire asks about skipped meals and hunger pangs, but also whether people had worries about getting food. It ranks the severity of their condition by the number of answers that indicate a problem.

“Very few of these people are hungry,” said Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”

The report measures the number of households that experienced problems at any point in the year. Only a “small fraction” were facing the problem at a given moment. Among those with “very low food security,” for instance, most experienced the condition for several days in each of seven or eight months.

James Weill, the director of the food center that pioneered the report, called it a careful look at an underappreciated condition.

“Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals,” he said. “Others say they have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger.’ ”

    Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High, NYT, 17.11.2009,






Indigent Burials Are on the Rise


October 11, 2009
The New York Times


Coroners and medical examiners across the country are reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families cannot.

The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to help cover the costs of burials or cremations.

Oregon, for example, has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of unclaimed bodies over the past few years, the majority left by families who say they cannot afford services. “There are more people in our cooler for a longer period of time,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state’s medical examiner. “It’s not that we’re not finding families, but that the families are having a harder time coming up with funds to cover burial or cremation costs.”

About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies, including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that has grown along with Medicaid rolls.

Financing in Oregon comes from fees paid to register the deaths with the state. The state legislature in June voted to raise the filing fee for death certificates to $20 from $7, to help offset the increased costs of state cremations, which cost $450.

“I’ve been here for 24 years, and I can’t remember something like this happening before,” Dr. Gunson said.

Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people since the end of January, said Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn tried to end the state’s indigent burial program this year, shifting the financing to counties and funeral homes, but the state eventually found $12 million to continue the program when funeral directors balked.

The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city, county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face down wide budget gaps.

Boone County, Mo., hit its $3,000 burial budget cap last month, and took $1,500 out of a reserve fund to cover the rest of the year. While the sum is relatively low, it comes as the county is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, tax collections are down 5 percent and the number of residents needing help is expected to grow.

“We’ve had a significant increase in unemployment, wages are dropping, industrial manufacturing jobs go away and companies scaled back or even closed their doors,” said Skip Elkin, the county commissioner. “But we feel an obligation to help families who don’t have any assets.”

The medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich., Dr. Carl Schmidt, bought a refrigerated truck after the morgue ran out of space. The truck, which holds 35 bodies, is currently full, Dr. Schmidt said. “We’ll buy another truck if we have to,” he said.

Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial.

Clyde Gibbs, the chief medical examiner in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the office typically averaged 25 to 30 unclaimed bodies each year. At the end of the 2008 fiscal year there were at least 60, Dr. Gibbs said. The office cremates about three-quarters of the remains, and scatters the ashes at sea every few years.

In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners’ offices donate unclaimed remains to the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the “Body Farm,” where students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility had to briefly halt donations because it had received so many this year, said its spokesman, Jay Mayfield.

The increase in indigent burials and cremations is also taking a toll on funeral homes, which are losing money as more people choose cremation over burial. In 2003, 29.5 percent of remains were cremated; by 2008 the number had grown to 36 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and it is expected to soar to 46 percent by 2015, according to the association’s projection of current trends.

Don Catchen, owner of Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes in Elsmere, Ky., who handles cremations of the poor in Kenton County, said the $831 county reimbursement for cremations was “just enough to cover the cost of what I do — I donate my time.”

In Florida, where counties switched to cremation a few years ago to save on costs, Prudencio Vallejo, general manager of the Unclaimed Bodies Unit of the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said cremations were $425, compared with $1,500 for a burial. They have risen about 10 percent this year, Mr. Vallejo said.

“Most people, the first thing that they say is ‘We wouldn’t be coming to you if we could afford to do it ourselves,’ ” he said.

Broward County, Fla., paid for the cremation of Renata Richardson’s daughter, Jazmyn Rose, who was born stillborn on Sept. 25, 2008. Ms. Richardson, 26, lost her job at an advertising agency in July and could not afford to pay.

The county spent about $1,000 on a cremation and pink urn, engraved with the baby’s birth and death date, and a Bible passage. It now sits in the bassinette where she was to sleep.

“I was strapped for cash, I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what they were going to do with her,” Ms. Richardson, of Davie, Fla., said. “I was honored that they went that far to help me.”

    Indigent Burials Are on the Rise, NYT, 11.10.2009,






This Land

Living in Tents,

and by the Rules, Under a Bridge


July 31, 2009
The New York Times



The chief emerges from his tent to face the leaden morning light. It had been a rare, rough night in his homeless Brigadoon: a boozy brawl, the wielding of a knife taped to a stick. But the community handled it, he says with pride, his day’s first cigar already aglow.

By community he means 80 or so people living in tents on a spit of state land beside the dusky Providence River: Camp Runamuck, no certain address, downtown Providence.

Because the two men in the fight had violated the community’s written compact, they were escorted off the camp, away from the protection of an abandoned overpass. One was told we’ll discuss this in the morning; the other was voted off the island, his knife tossed into the river, his tent taken down.

The chief flicks his spent cigar into that same river. There is talk of rain tonight.

Behind him, the camp stirs. Other tent cities have sprung up recently around the country, but Rhode Island officials have never seen anything like this. A tea kettle sings.

A heavily pierced young person walks by without picking up an empty plastic bottle, flouting the camp compact that says everyone will share in the labor. The compact may be as impermanent as this sudden community by the river, but for now it is binding. The chief speaks, the bottle is picked up.

The chief, John Freitas, is 55, with a gray beard touched by tobacco rust. He did prison time decades ago, worked for years as a factory supervisor, then became homeless for all the familiar, complicated reasons.

Layoffs, health problems, a slip from apartment to motel room. His girlfriend, Barbara Kalil, 50, lost her job as a nursing-home nurse, and another slip, into the shelter system. A job holding store-liquidation signs beside the highway allowed for a climb back to a motel, but it didn’t last.

Weary of shelters, the couple pitched a pup tent in Roger Williams Park, close to a plaque bearing words Williams had used to describe this place he founded: “A Shelter for Persons in Distress.” But someone complained, so Mr. Freitas set off again in search of shelter. The March winds blew.

Down South Main Street he went, past the majestic court building and the upscale seafood restaurant, over a guardrail to a gravelly plot beneath a ramp that once guided cars toward Cape Cod. Foul-smelling and partially hidden, a place of birds and rodents, it was perfect.

He and Ms. Kalil set up camp with another couple in early April. Word of it spread from the shelters to Kennedy Plaza downtown, where homeless people share the same empty Tim Hortons cup to pose as customers worthy of visiting that doughnut chain’s restroom. The camp became 10 people, then 15, then 25. No children allowed.

“I was always considered the leader, the chief,” Mr. Freitas says. “I was the one consulted about ‘Where should I put my tent?’ ”

By late June the camp had about 50 people. But someone questioned the role of Mr. Freitas as chief, so he stepped down. Arguments broke out. Food was stolen.

“There was no center holding,” recalls Rachell Shaw, 22, who lives with her boyfriend in a tidy tent decorated with porcelain dolls. “So everybody voted him back in.”

The community also established a five-member leadership council and a compact that read in part: “No one person shall be greater than the will of the whole.”

It is now late afternoon in late July, a month after nearly everyone signed that compact. The community remains intact, though the very ground they walk on says nothing is forever. Here and there are the exposed foundations of fish shacks that lined the river long ago.

Some state officials recently stopped by to say, nicely but firmly, that everyone would soon have to leave. The overpass poses the threat of falling concrete, and is scheduled for demolition. The officials have shared the same message with a smaller encampment across the river.

For now, a game of horseshoes sends echoing clanks, as outreach workers conduct interviews and raindrops thrum the tent tops. The chief lights another cigar and walks the length of the camp to tell residents to batten down, explaining its structure as he goes.

Here at the end, nearest the road, are the tents of young single people and substance abusers; this way, rescue vehicles won’t disrupt the entire compound.

Here in the center are a cluster of couples, including two competing for the nicest property, with homey touches like planted flowers. Here too are the food table, the coolers, the piles of donated clothes — what can’t be used will be taken by camp residents to the Salvation Army — and the large tent of the chief. Plastic pink flamingos stand guard.

Farther on, the recycled-can area (the money is used for ice and propane); the area for garbage bags that will be discreetly dropped in nearby Dumpsters at night; and, behind a blue tarp hung from the overpass, a plastic toilet. The chief says the shared task of removing the bags of waste tends to test the compact.

Finally, near some rocks where men go to urinate, live a gay couple and some people who drink hard. Timothy Webb, 49, who says he used to own a salon in Cranston called Class Act, cuts people’s hair here. Then, at night, he and his partner, Norman Trank, 45, sit at a riverside table, a battery-operated candle giving light, the moving waters suggesting mystery.

“It’s what you make of it,” Mr. Trank says.

Dark clouds have brought night early to Providence. Heavy drops thump against tarp. Water drips from the overpass, onto the long table of food.

In the last couple of hours the chief has resolved a conflict about tarp distribution, hugged a pregnant woman who mistakenly thought she had been kicked off the island, conferred with outreach workers and helped with dinner preparations. He is also thinking about tomorrow.

Tomorrow, an advance party for the chief will leave to claim another spot across the river that turns out not to be on public property. Many in the camp will decide it’s time to move on anyway, to a spot under a bridge in East Providence. Camp Runamuck will begin its recession from sight and memory.

At least tonight there is a communal dinner: donated chicken, parboiled and grilled; donated corn on the cob; donated potatoes. People line up with paper plates.

The rain falls harder, pocking the river’s gray surface, surrounding the dark camp with a sound like fingers drumming in impatience. The chief hears it, but what can he do? He finishes his dinner and lights another cigar.

    Living in Tents, and by the Rules, Under a Bridge, NYT, 31.7.2009,






City Seeks New Powers

in Its Stalled Fight Against Homelessness


June 24, 2009
The New York Times


In June 2004, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a lofty promise to address one of the city’s most intractable problems: he would reduce the homeless population of 38,000 by two-thirds in five years.

Today, with the total homeless population down only slightly, and with more families in shelters than five years ago, the administration is seeking state approval for a new set of policies designed to move families out more quickly, applying the same market-driven, incentive-based philosophy to homeless shelters that it has used in schools and antipoverty programs.

Under the new rules, nonprofit agencies that provide shelter beds under contract with the city would be paid more than the usual rate, which is roughly $100 a day, for each family that arrives. But after six months, if the agency has not been able to get the family into stable housing, the city would begin paying it less than the standard rate.

And city officials are trying to toughen rules and consequences for homeless families, forcing them to follow a strict code of conduct or risk being ejected from the shelter.

“The thing that we have been trying to introduce is a greater expectation of accountability, both by the providers and by the clients themselves,” Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, said in an interview. “We want them to overcome homelessness more quickly. We believe they are in shelter far longer than they need to be.”

Shelter providers say that they are doing the best they can, and that the proposed payment structure could achieve the opposite of its intended result, especially since the city just imposed a 4 percent budget cut as part of reductions in virtually every city agency.

Christy Parque, the executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of more than 60 providers, said that further reductions “could result in an increased length of stay in shelter, because there will be fewer staff and resources to help clients address their problems and return to the community quickly.”

Advocates for the homeless called the city’s plans mean-spirited, and warned that they would threaten the safety of families, especially children, forced to leave the shelter with no place to go.

“It’s an extraordinary change in what has been city policy for nearly three decades,” said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society. “It’s striking that the current city administration and the current state administration would be returning to these shelter-termination regulations, which are really a relic of another, harsher era.”

The attempt to evict families from shelters began under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, an effort that was blocked by the courts. The Bloomberg administration has been no more successful. In 2002, the city pursued a policy that would allow it to eject families it deemed uncooperative, but backed down and agreed to reserve the right to eject single adults, but not families.

Ms. Gibbs said that an ejection could result from a homeless family “refusing to look for housing, refusing to seek employment, anything that is an unreasonable refusal to participate in the steps they need to take to overcome their homelessness.”

“The families need to understand that they can’t just thumb their nose at the rules and have no consequences,” she said.

One thing is indisputable: While the population of homeless single adults has gone down significantly in the last five years, the number of families sleeping in shelters is near an all-time high. According to the Web site for the Department of Homeless Services, there were 34,774 people in shelters last week, including 9,361 families — often single mothers with children.

About 150 organizations that hold contracts with the city operate most of the homeless shelters. (The city runs a small handful of its own shelters.)

The cost of providing shelter has risen. The city estimates that it costs roughly $36,000 a year to house a homeless family, up from $31,656 in 2004. The average stay in a shelter is about nine months.

City officials have privately expressed frustration at their inability to get a handle on the problem, despite efforts to expand homelessness prevention and introduce rental subsidy programs.

The new policies reflect the administration’s determination to rid the system of families who stay in shelters for long stretches, sometimes rejecting apartments offered to them, while giving the shelter providers an incentive to get them out.

Under the new rules, which would take effect in January, the city would pay the agencies a 10 percent premium for the first six months that it houses a family. During that time, the agency is expected to push the family toward economic independence and permanent housing. But if the family stayed longer, the agencies would be paid 20 percent less than the standard rate.

But advocates for the homeless questioned the city’s ability to avoid bureaucratic mistakes that could result in a family being wrongly ejected.

In May, a state-mandated program to charge rent to the working homeless was quickly suspended after it began with a dizzying series of errors from both state and city agencies. (City officials say the program is being revamped.)

State approval is required to make changes to social service policies. Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said the state commissioner was considering the proposals.

Robert V. Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, said that the new policies would be put in place after a long rollout, staff training and orientation, and that ejections would occur only after a thorough review.

“At the end of the day, we’re not putting policies in place that are intended, or will result in, people just arbitrarily having their shelter rights terminated,” Mr. Hess said. “That’s not what we’re about.”

Bonnie Stone, the executive director of Women in Need, a shelter for women and children, praised the city for its ability to house an ever-increasing number of people who needed help.

But the notion of ejecting a family, she said, made her uneasy.

“I believe that you only do that under huge, huge safety and due process, and not for small things,” she said, pausing. “I think it is not what we do.”

At the moment, shelter residents who resist following rules are frequently subject to another form of punishment: transfer to a shelter seen as less desirable.

Tina Rodriguez, a pink-haired 23-year-old with a silver stud in her lip, said she and her toddler son, Damonie, had been living in a shelter in Hell’s Kitchen since September, and lately workers there had threatened that if she did not move out soon, she would be transferred to a so-called Next Step shelter. The city says such shelters offer more intensive case management, but among families, they are known for stricter rules and more crowded conditions.

Still, when Ms. Rodriguez was recently offered a studio apartment in Harlem, she rejected it. “I was scared to tell my worker that I didn’t want it,” she said, standing outside the Hell’s Kitchen shelter as Damonie slept in a stroller. “But there was no living room. I can’t live with a 2-year-old in an apartment like that. They’re trying to force me into somewhere that I’m not comfortable.”

Amanda Hayes, 24, said she entered the shelter system with her toddler, Xavier, in April after growing fed up with her living arrangements in the Bronx: sharing a one-bedroom apartment with her mother, adult brother and Xavier.

She needs no additional pressure from shelter workers to persuade her to move out, she said.

“I’ve been looking for work every day,” Ms. Hayes said. “I don’t need to be threatened about it at every turn.”

    City Seeks New Powers in Its Stalled Fight Against Homelessness,
    NYT, 24.6.2009,






Cities Deal With a Surge

in Shanty Towns


March 26, 2009

The New York Times



FRESNO, Calif. — As the operations manager of an outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”

While encampments and street living have always been a part of the landscape in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, these new tent cities have taken root — or grown from smaller enclaves of the homeless as more people lose jobs and housing — in such disparate places as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Seattle, homeless residents in the city’s 100-person encampment call it Nickelsville, an unflattering reference to the mayor, Greg Nickels. A tent city in Sacramento prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce a plan Wednesday to shift the entire 125-person encampment to a nearby fairground. That came after a recent visit by “The Oprah Winfrey Show” set off such a news media stampede that some fed-up homeless people complained of overexposure and said they just wanted to be left alone.

The problem in Fresno is different in that it is both chronic and largely outside the national limelight. Homelessness here has long been fed by the ups and downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture, but now the recession has cast a wider net and drawn in hundreds of the newly homeless — from hitchhikers to truck drivers to electricians.

“These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income,” said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington.

The surging number of homeless people in Fresno, a city of 500,000 people, has been a surprise. City officials say they have three major encampments near downtown and smaller settlements along two highways. All told, as many 2,000 people are homeless here, according to Gregory Barfield, the city’s homeless prevention and policy manager, who said that drug use, prostitution and violence were all too common in the encampments.

“That’s all part of that underground economy,” Mr. Barfield said. “It’s what happens when a person is trying to survive.”

He said the city planned to begin “triage” on the encampments in the next several weeks, to determine how many people needed services and permanent housing. “We’re treating it like any other disaster area,” Mr. Barfield said.

Mr. Barfield took over his newly created position in January, after the county and city adopted a 10-year plan to address homelessness. A class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of homeless people against the city and the California Department of Transportation led to a $2.35 million settlement in 2008, making money available to about 350 residents who had had their belongings discarded in sweeps by the city.

The growing encampments led the city to place portable toilets and security guards near one area known as New Jack City, named after a dark and drug-filled 1991 movie. But that just attracted more homeless people.

“It was just kind of an invitation to move in,” said Mr. Stack, the outreach center manager.

On a recent afternoon, nobody seemed thrilled to be living in New Jack City, a filthy collection of rain- and wind-battered tents in a garbage-strewn lot. Several weary-looking residents sat on decaying sofas as a pair of pit bulls chained to a fence howled.

Northwest of New Jack City sits a somewhat less grim encampment. It is sometimes called Taco Flats or Little Tijuana because of the large number of Latino residents, many of whom were drawn to Fresno on the promise of agricultural jobs, which have dried up in the face of the poor economy and a three-year drought.

Guillermo Flores, 32, said he had looked for work in the fields and in fast food, but had found nothing. For the last eight months, he has collected cans, recycling them for $5 to $10 a day, and lived in a hand-built, three-room shack, a home that he takes pride in, with a door, clean sheets on his bed and a bowl full of fresh apples in his propane-powered kitchen area.

“I just built it because I need it,” said Mr. Flores, as he cooked a dinner of chili peppers, eggs and onions over a fire. “The only problem I have is the spiders.”

Dozens of homeless men and women here have found more organized shelter at the Village of Hope, a collection of 8-by-10-foot storage sheds built by the nonprofit group Poverello House and overseen by Mr. Stack. Planted in a former junkyard behind a chain-link fence, each unit contains two cots, sleeping bags and a solar-powered light.

Doug Brown, a freelance electrical engineer, said he had discovered the Village of Hope while unemployed a few years back and had returned after losing his job in October. Mr. Stoops, of the homeless coalition, predicted that the population at such new Hoovervilles could grow as those without places to live slowly burned through their options and joined the ranks of the chronically homeless, many of whom are indigent as a result of illiteracy, alcoholism, mental illness and drug abuse.

That mix is already evident in a walk around Taco Flats, where Sean Langer, 42, who lost a trucking job in December and could pass for a soccer dad, lives in his car in front of a sturdy shanty that is home to Barbara Smith, 41, a crack addict with a wild cackle for a laugh.

“This is a one-bedroom house,” said Ms. Smith, proudly taking a visitor through her home built with scrap wood and scavenged two-by-fours. “We got a roof, and it does not leak.”

During the day, the camp can seem peaceful. American flags fly over some shanties, and neighbors greet one another. Some feed pets, while others build fires and chat.

Daniel Kent, a clean-shaven 27-year-old from Oregon, has been living in Taco Flats for three months after running out of money on a planned hitchhiking trip to Florida. He did manage to earn $35 a day holding up a going-out-of-business sign for Mervyn’s until the department store actually went of out business.

Mr. Kent planned to attend a job fair soon, but said he did not completely mind living outdoors.

“We got veterans out here; we got people with heart, proud to be who they are,” Mr. Kent said. “Regardless of living situations, it doesn’t change the heart. There’s some good people out here, really good people.”

But the danger after dark is real. Ms. Smith, who lost an eye after being shot in the face years ago, said she had seen two people killed in New Jack City, prompting her to move to Taco Flats and try to quit drugs. Her companion, Willie Mac, 53, a self-described youth minister, said he was “waiting on her to get herself right with the Lord.”

Ms. Smith said her dream was simple: “To get out of here, get off the street, have our own home.”

Cities Deal With a Surge in Shanty Towns,






24 million go

from 'thriving' to 'struggling'


9 March 2009

USA Today

By Susan Page


EXTON, Pa. — Casualties of the economic downturn include easy credit, rising home values, stable retirement investment accounts and 4.4 million jobs.

Some fear that the American dream may be in peril as well.

The aspirations that have defined the American experience — that those who work hard and play by the rules can get ahead, and that the next generation will have a better life than this one — have been battered by a devastating recession that shows few signs of having hit bottom.

"Maybe we were dreaming the American dream, you know what I mean?" says David McLimans, a steelworker. The mill he works for in suburban Philadelphia temporarily shut down last week amid the credit crunch. "I'm 63, so I'm not dreaming it anymore. I have what I have and I hope I can keep what I have, but my kids, I worry about. They're struggling."

His four grown children have a lot of company. More than 24 million Americans shifted in 2008 from lives that were "thriving" to ones that were "struggling," according to a massive study by Gallup and Healthways, a Tennessee health management company. Results from its Well-Being Index — including physical and mental health as well as personal finances and job satisfaction — are being released Tuesday.

For the project, Gallup has been surveying about 1,000 people every day except major holidays since January 2008.

At the start of 2008, as the recession was beginning, slightly more people were "thriving" than "struggling." By the end of the year, after an economic meltdown that began with the subprime mortgage crisis, Americans by an overwhelming 20 percentage points were "struggling" rather than "thriving," 58%-38%.

The remaining 4% were "suffering," in more dire straits.

The index categorizes respondents based on how they rate their current lives as well as their expectations of where they will be in five years. Among those showing the steepest drop were African Americans, business owners and executives, and people who were 35-39 years old — a stage in life when many are building careers, expanding families and buying homes.

Among those with the smallest decline were Hispanics, seniors 65 and older, and repair workers, whose skills suddenly may be more in demand as Americans try to make do with what they have.

No group was immune, however. High levels of education and income have protected many workers during previous downturns, but the Well-Being Index shows declines in 2008 across all age groups and income levels, among both men and women and in every major racial and ethnic group.

In Chester County, south of Philadelphia, the downturn has been felt not only by steelworkers in Coatesville but also investment bankers in Exton and among immigrants who toil on the mushroom farms in Kennett Square.

"People have lost their jobs and they're in the unemployment lines," says James Kennedy, the 91-year-old mayor of South Coatesville. Even so, he recalls, the Great Depression was worse.

"The current recession hits everyone and spares no one," says Andrew Dinniman, the local state senator and a professor of global studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. "The bottom line is: industrial worker, professional worker — we're all in this together."

The wide reach of hard times has made it difficult for Americans to use some traditional strategies to cope.

Get training for a new job? The index shows declines in every occupation, from business managers and professionals to clerical staff and service workers. Move to a different part of the country? The percentage of those "thriving" fell by double digits in the West, South and Midwest and by more than 9 percentage points in the East.

The findings underscore the enormous task the United States faces in pulling out of the worst downturn since the Depression and in maintaining the sense of possibility that has marked the nation since its founding.

Optimism that individuals could reach better days ahead fueled the westward expansion, waves of innovation and the country's continued draw for immigrants from around the world.

The concept of the American dream reflects aspirations for the long term that have endured through good times and bad, but it is not indestructible, says Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard.

"What people mean by the 'American dream' is something that is not a snapshot; it's something that is played out over time and not just in their lifetime, but the lifetimes of their children," she says.

"It may be impervious to a short-term job loss, to a short-run health problem, but it's not going to be impervious to a slowdown of the entire economy that lasts for a very long period of time," especially if traditional gains in education are stalled.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last week, Americans by about 3-to-1 said they believed that with hard work they could achieve the American dream. Even so, one tenet of that dream — faith that the next generation will have a better life than their parents — is eroding.

Ten years ago, during an economic boom, 71% of Americans said it was likely that those in the next generation would be better off than their parents.

One year ago, 66% agreed.

Now, 59% do.

The pursuit of happiness

The groundbreaking Gallup-Healthways index makes clear how intertwined individual lives are with the nation's well-being. Dramatic shifts in the stock market and the jobless rate often correlated with changes in Americans' assessments of where their lives stood now and where they would be in the future.

Consider the Declaration of Independence's assertion of a natural-born right to pursue happiness.

The survey lists several emotions, including happiness, and asks if respondents experienced them the previous day. Weekends tended to have the highest percentage of those reporting happiness or enjoyment without much stress or worry — no surprise there — and Thanksgiving was the happiest day of the year, when 68% were upbeat.

The five days with the lowest levels of happiness all coincided with awful economic news.

Just 37% of Americans said they felt a lot of happiness and not a lot of stress on four downbeat days: Sept. 17, when the Dow fell 449 points; Sept. 29, when the Dow dropped 778 points and the House rejected President Bush's Wall Street bailout plan; Nov. 20, when new jobless claims hit the highest level since 1992; and Dec. 2, one day after the nation officially was declared in recession, pushing down the Dow by 680 points.

The unhappiest day of all was Dec. 11, when new jobless claims reached a 26-year high. A record-low 35% of Americans reported that day as a happy one.

For Amy Beers, the past year has been trying.

The 36-year-old woman from Perkasie, in Bucks County, had been on a fast track. She built a career in direct marketing, worked with an inventor who had developed a handheld device that could neutralize land mines without detonation, attended a land-mine conference in Croatia to promote it, then started her own firm to help local companies develop customer loyalty.

Last year, her business dried up. She tends bar at night to help pay the bills for her and her 7-year-old son, Zack, while she looks for a job in her field by day.

"I've gone from corporate America to the top of Comcast's shut-off list," she says ruefully. "It's been a truly humbling experience, and for a very long time I was embarrassed not to have a job. You go through the emotional loss. In some ways, it's like mourning. I've had those doubts and depression: 'Oh my goodness, my life is falling apart in front of my eyes!'

"But at the end of the day, I know who I am. I know that this isn't permanent, and I really have belief that things are going to get better."

Even Beers' job at a Bennigan's restaurant in Montgomeryville is an opportunity, she says. The traveling business executives who stay in the adjoining hotel and come in for a nightcap might have a job at their companies.

Her pitch: "Hi, is anyone out there looking for an employee?"

Obama: Keep 'the dream alive'

President Obama regularly talks about the American dream as threatened and its restoration as a central goal. "We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time," he said when he signed the $787 billion stimulus bill.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs ticks off what the White House sees as elements of the American dream: "That you could get a job that pays a living wage, that if you got sick you wouldn't go bankrupt, that you don't have to be rich to send your kids to college, that you could have a secure retirement."

Safire's New Political Dictionary puts it this way: "The American System is considered the skeleton and the American Dream the soul of the American body politic." Author William Safire adds that the phrase "defies definition as much as it invites discussion."

Karen Beltran's family epitomizes one classic version of the American dream.

Her father came to southern Pennsylvania from Mexico to work on the mushroom farms and as a dishwasher, eventually bringing his wife and their two young daughters here. At first illegal immigrants, Jose and Martha Beltran eventually gained legal status and last month became U.S. citizens.

An organization in Kennett Square called La Comunidad Hispana helped them gain their high-school equivalency diplomas. They own their home now — he is a mechanic; she is employed at a potato-chip factory — and have sent their two older daughters to college.

Karen, 25, who graduated from Penn State in 2005, now works as a social worker at the same community center that helped them.

The downturn has postponed her father's hopes of moving to a new job and reduced their ability to contribute toward college expenses for their youngest, American-born daughter, who is now in high school. Still, ask Karen Beltran about the American dream and she plays down financial strains to boast about how close-knit her family remains: "We're still together."

In the face of a faltering economy, some analysts say, Americans may be redefining some fundamental ambitions. A study sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and being released today asked Americans to define "success." Topping the list were spending time with family, having a good relationship with a spouse or partner, being healthy and maintaining a good work/life balance.

Ranked near the bottom were such material goals as owning "the home of your dreams" and earning a high income.

Still, three of four in the nationwide poll ranked financial security as important — and only 12% said they felt secure in their finances these days.

Chris Connell, 50, owner of the Pig & Whistle Deli in Havertown, in Pennsylvania's Delaware County, has cut back on hours for his employees and stopped drawing a salary for himself as he struggles to deal with a cash-flow squeeze.

His wife's paycheck as an emergency-room nurse is keeping the family afloat for now.

Connell feels confident the economy will be better by the time his 11-year-old twin daughters, head into the workforce, but he worries about his three older children, including two who are now in college.

"The twins, we don't want to scare them. We don't want them to think someone is going to come along and take the house away," he says. "But we at least want to let them know that things are very, very tight and we have to work at this together. …

"I do still want the same things for them. Never going to stop the dream, absolutely. Never lower my standard of dreaming."

24 million go from 'thriving' to 'struggling',





Drop in homeless count

seen as 'success story'


28 July 2008

USA Today

By Wendy Koch


The U.S. had 12% fewer homeless last year than in 2005, and the greatest decline occurred among those who chronically live on the streets or in emergency shelters, according to a federal report to be released Tuesday.

"This is a success story," says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor and co-author of the report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He attributes the decline to better tracking and to increased efforts to house the "chronically homeless" — disabled adults who are continuously homeless for at least a year.

The number of people on the street or in emergency shelters on a single night in January, the month in which the tally was taken, fell from 763,010 in 2005 to 671,888 last year, the report says. Most were homeless temporarily. Among those who were chronically homeless, the number fell from 175,914 in 2005 to 123,833 in 2007.

"This reduction is the largest documented decrease in homelessness in our nation's history," says Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal efforts. He says it shows that the increase in housing units for the long-term homeless, funded by HUD and communities, is working.

Homeless advocates say the data, which come from 3,800 cities and counties that receive HUD funds, do not count every homeless person and do not reflect this year's weaker economy.

"Chronic homelessness may be down, but the non-chronic population is increasing," says Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. He says he's getting reports of shelters filling with families that have lost homes to foreclosure.

A lot of people become homeless when they are forced to choose between paying for food and gas, which have sharply increased in cost this year, or housing, says Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a non-profit group.

"These are tough times," says Culhane, adding that homeless numbers often reflect the economy. He says this year's homeless data, which HUD is starting to receive for January, paints a "mixed" picture of increases in some areas, such as Connecticut, and decreases in others, including New York City.

Mangano sees an upside to the weak housing market, saying foreclosures create opportunities for communities to buy properties at lower prices to use as shelters.

For the first time, HUD's report includes a count of people using shelters or transitional housing during a full year. From October 2006 to September 2007, 1.6 million people sought help for homelessness. Of those, 69% were men, 64% were minorities, and 30% were in families.

Drop in homeless count seen as 'success story' ,







catches families

even amid affluence


Updated 12/22/2006

10:51 AM ET

USA Today

By Wendy Koch


FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Christine Fuller finds holiday kindness at unexpected moments, such as before sunrise at a bus stop 7 miles from the White House.

A bus driver sees her switching buses each weekday morning at 6:15 with four neatly dressed children, ages 6 to 10, as she escorts them to a before-school program. The driver lauds their behavior and says he wants to give each child a Christmas present.

Fuller doesn't know his name. He doesn't know hers. She says presents would be fine.

The bus driver also doesn't know that Fuller and her children are homeless. They've been living at a shelter since September. Fuller has a full-time job that pays her $23,000 a year but says she can't afford an apartment in this affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., where a typical two-bedroom apartment rents for $1,225 a month.

The problem of poverty and homelessness — and how difficult it is to escape — is poignantly illustrated in the hit movie The Pursuit of Happyness, which stars Will Smith and his son, Jaden.

At least 2 million Americans, many of whom have jobs and families, are homeless at some point over the course of a year, says Philip Mangano, executive director of the White House's Interagency Council on Homelessness.

"It's very traumatic for children," Mangano says.

It can be particularly so in a place like Falls Church and surrounding Fairfax County, one of the nation's wealthiest areas with a median household income of $94,600.

Fuller, 32, tries to ward off any trauma by focusing on routines and maintaining dignity in tough circumstances.

Her day starts at 3:45 a.m., in the two-bedroom, 300-square-foot unit her family occupies at Shelter House, a county facility that can house seven families.

Fuller gets ready for her job as a dispatch assistant at a courier service, then at 5 a.m. wakes her boys, William, 10, and Isaiah, 7. After she gets them going, she rouses the girls, Beatrice, 8, and Jhavona, 6.

"Mom, our life is so boring," she says the kids tell her. "You sound like a drill sergeant."

They're out the door by 5:45 a.m. with a snack in hand to catch the first public bus. They switch buses before arriving at a before-school program that opens at 6:30 a.m. The kids have subsidized breakfast and lunch at school.

"My 7-year-old knows every bus route," says Fuller, sitting on a vinyl couch in her unit's small living area.

After dropping off the kids, she boards another bus to get to her job, which she has held for three years, by 7:30 a.m. She works until 5 p.m. and then takes a bus to pick up her kids at an after-school program. She pays $177 monthly for the child care. The unsubsidized cost for four kids in similar programs in Fairfax County is $1,500.

Being homeless during the holidays can be particularly grim, but this month Fuller and her children have received several gifts from charitable residents, from dolls to firetrucks to a microwave oven. Such gifts reflect both the generosity of individuals and the same community wealth that has hindered Fuller's ability to find her own place to live.

"Apartments cost a lot here," says Fuller, a never-married high school dropout who has six children in all. The two oldest — a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl — live with a family friend in a nearby town and are in their high school's marching band.

Fuller says she can't move to a more affordable city or distant suburb because her job is near downtown Washington and she has no car. Despite the difficulty of living in such an expensive area, she's also reluctant to go elsewhere because she grew up here, and her mother and grandparents live nearby.

Fuller receives child support from the father of one of her children. She doesn't know where one of the fathers is, and another helps out with child care on weekends. But when it comes to finances, she's largely on her own.


Families without homes

Families with children make up about 40% of the nation's homeless people, according to a USA TODAY analysis of government data. Those in homeless families represent about 55% of the roughly 2,000 homeless people in Fairfax, which has about 1 million residents.

More than half the single homeless adults in Fairfax are white, while 65% of those in homeless families are African-American, according to a county report released this month.

Two of every five homeless adults in Fairfax works, says Gerry Connolly, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. "A lot of people benefit from our vibrant economy, but others are cut out," he says. He cites the loss of hundreds of affordable housing units during the recent real estate boom.

"When you meet the (homeless) children, your heart breaks," Connolly says, "because they haven't done anything to deserve it."

He says Fairfax, like many jurisdictions across the nation, has stepped up efforts to find more places for the homeless to stay, either through their friends and relatives or churches, motels and shelters. It doesn't always work. He says some people live in their cars.

"We've even had people living in the woods under tarps," he says.

For most of her life, Fuller lived with her grandparents in a three-bedroom house in nearby Arlington County. When the grandparents moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, officials said it was too small for Fuller and her children to also live there, so she spent six months in a shelter. She moved into a three-bedroom basement apartment in Fairfax County, but officials there deemed it a fire hazard.

Fuller and her four youngest children then spent three months in a motel room paid for by Fairfax County before a unit became available at Shelter House.

"We're helping the working homeless," shelter director Joe Meyer says.

The children "know this isn't their own place," Fuller says. They can't invite kids over for play dates or birthday parties. She adds that like many youths who struggle to cope with the trauma of being homeless, her children have suffered from mood swings, depression and other problems.

"I know I have to better myself for my kids," she says. She tells her kids to "stay in school, … stay out of jail, stay out of trouble."

Fuller says when she sees her 14-year-old daughter, she warns her: "Don't make the mistakes I made" by, among other things, getting pregnant while in high school.

At Shelter House, government workers make sure homeless families get food stamps as well as benefits from Medicaid and mental health and social services agencies. Parents such as Fuller must attend evening workshops on parenting, alcohol and drug awareness, financial planning and job-seeking skills.

Families are expected to stay no more than three months, but they can stay longer if they have no other housing options and make progress toward self-sufficiency, Meyer says. He says Fuller's family will be able to stay until she can get a subsidized apartment.

"They've been a great help," Fuller says. She initially chafed at the shelter's 10 p.m. curfew and visitor restrictions, but says she's learning to manage money better and pay off $5,000 in credit card debt.

Fuller says she's not buying Christmas toys for her children, only necessities. Sometimes they tease her, calling her "the Grinch."

Fairfax board Chairman Connolly's concern about the impact of homelessness on families is reflected in the waiting list for the 32 units the county has available at Shelter House and two other facilities. The list is approaching 90 families.

A report released last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that analyzed homelessness in 23 cities said that in most of the cities, some homeless families have to split up in order to find shelter.

"This is just unacceptable," says Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer, the conference's president.

The Conference of Mayors report says requests for shelter rose 9% last year in the 23 cities surveyed.

Housing affordability is the top problem, says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor of social welfare policy. He says the government needs to use tax credits to push more investors and developers to build affordable apartments. He says it's much cheaper to give a housing subsidy to a homeless family than to put the family in a shelter, which can cost $50,000 for a 14-month stay.

Mangano says federal spending on housing subsidies has risen in recent years, but the number of available units hasn't increased because of rising real estate prices.


Adding holiday cheer

While communities struggle to find solutions for homelessness, people such as Ginger Mahon are helping make the lives of homeless families a little better this time of the year by playing Santa.

Mahon, a PTA president in Great Falls, Va., a half-hour drive from Shelter House, asked her neighbors to "adopt" a homeless family for Christmas. She asked several shelters for wish lists of items that homeless people wanted and matched them with donors.

The Fullers are receiving not only a microwave but also an air hockey table, a $100 Target gift card, a blanket, pots, pans and dinnerware. Other families at the shelter are getting presents, including hundreds of dollars in gift cards.

"During the holidays, the community really reaches out," says Meyer, the shelter's director. He says people wanted to donate iPods last year, but he reminded them that shelter residents don't have computers to download songs.

On Thursday, Ted Smith, the bus driver who sees Fuller and her children each weekday, gave the kids huge bags of toys that he and his wife had bought. "You do good in school and thank the Lord for all you have," he told the youngsters.

Fuller says Beatrice and Jhavona had wanted dolls, and Isaiah asked for firetrucks. William wanted a Sony PlayStation 3, which costs at least $600, but he knew his mom couldn't afford it.

Fuller says William told her:
"All I really want for Christmas is our own place."

Homelessness catches families even amid affluence,









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