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US 2009 Poverty Rate Jumps to 14.3%: Census Omits Vital Data from Rise in Poverty Rate

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Poverty

by Neil Donovan, Executive Director

The US Census Bureau announced the finding from its annual report: Income Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. The Census reported a poverty rate of 14.3% or 43.6 million Americans, slightly lower than the grim predictions of 14.8 to 15 percent. The 14.3% poverty rate jumped from last year’s 13.2 and is the highest rate since 1994.

The new poverty rate is the clearest indicator-to-date to prove that social constraints prevent those living in poverty from working and just as clearly refutes the notion that those living in poverty choose to not work, though given the opportunity.

The 2009 report will be the last year, since the reporting began in1959, when only certain categories of under-reporting will occur. Beginning next year, the Census will publish figures that take into account the rising costs of medical care, transportation and child care. National poverty figures will certainly show an ever higher poverty rate after factoring the new supplemental data.

The Census further omits the impact of significant elements of the Recovery Act. While factoring household cash income received through unemployment insurance benefits, the Census leaves out household assistance received from tax credits and other non-cash benefits, such as food stamps.

Given the proposed changes to future annual reports, it is evident that the Census Bureau has wrestled with establishing a truer measure of poverty in America. However, the Census fails to address the critical importance of poverty, as a fluid and dynamic condition. A weakened economy almost assures a continued rise in the poverty rate next year, unless the soon to be expiring Recovery Act’s substantial benefits and tax credits for workers are renewed. The poverty rate is useful only in so far as it relates to other socio-economic rates and conditions. Announcing the poverty rate alone perpetuates the unexplained bifurcation of the American populous: the widening socioeconomic gap between rich and poor.

Read more at Change.org

Don’t Obstruct the Personal Act of Giving

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

by Neil Donovan, NCH Executive Director

The people of Memphis want to know if they should put up “parking meter – contribution stations” to replace the method of directly donating to a person in need, often referred to as panhandling. If they asked me, I’d confidently say “No” to the parking meter plan, and “Yes” to promoting compassion through the personal act giving to those in need.” I’d also recommend not asking me, or any national advocate or your local city planners. Instead, ask those in need and those that serve them best. The answer you’re looking for resides within them.

The practice of installing meters has been done unsuccessfully in dozens of communities across the country and most recently in Nashville and Orlando. What these new cities will learn too late and Memphis may learn just in time, is that parking meter plans are often an act of frustration in disguise.

Homelessness has been with us for far too long. No one will agree with you more than a homeless person. But, the responsibility belongs to all of us: national advocates, federal, state and local governments, homeless service providers, the intolerant and dispassionate… and the homeless.

But, let’s not punish one group and call it innovative giving. “Parking meter – contribution stations” are small memorials to a community that’s stopped trying to end homelessness and started to circle the wagons. Most mainstream religions and community organizations can look to their teachings and missions for advice on interacting with those less fortunate: We all become richer in body, mind and spirit through the personal act of giving to another.

Response to Homelessness: Hot or Cold?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

In January, NCH released a report on Winter Services that detailed extended shelter hours and other services that work to decrease the risk of hypothermia deaths among people who are homeless. Hypothermia refers to the life-threatening conditions that can occur when a person’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

HypERthermia is just the opposite referring to a myriad of conditions that can occur as a result of a person absorbing or producing more heat that the body can dissipate. Just as with hypothermia, people most at risk of hyperthermia are the young and elderly, those who have persistent medical conditions, and those exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

NCH’s Winter Services report found that 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. A similar report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that looked at data from 1999 to 2003 found that on average 688 deaths each year were due to hyperthermia. While the CDC report does not mention the housing status of those who passed away due to heat-related illnesses, we can relate the risks to people who are homeless (my comments in italics) to the CDC’s recommendations for preventing hyperthermia:

Suggestion #1: Drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level.

Many people who are homeless do not have ready access to water. Restaurants will charge, soup kitchens may only be open at certain times during the day, there are fewer and fewer publicly accessible water fountains, can you imagine not having a refrigerator full of cold water or even a sink for tap water?

Suggestion #2: Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar.

Sodas can be cheaper than bottled water! People who are suffering from alcohol dependence are at particular risk for temperature-related illness.

Suggestion #3: Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library.

There are few day centers available for people experiencing homelessness, and often, people who “look” homeless (have lots of bags or who have not been able to shower or do laundry) are turned away from establishments like libraries and restaurants.

Suggestion #4: Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.

Electric fans (anything other than a small battery-operating or hand fan), taking a shower or air-conditioning are simply not options when you have no home.

Suggestion #5: Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

Type of clothing is often not an option when you cannot pay for appropriate pieces or do not have somewhere secure to store clothing.

Some communities have stepped up efforts to prevent the risk of hyperthermia among people experiencing homelessness: the Arizona Department of Health Services published a guide on where to find cooling centers; a Columbia, South Carolina shelter has extended weekend hours to provide a cool refuge during the hot summer months; and DC opens cooling centers and emergency shower locations (though I’ve only heard from a couple of people who know about these).

But it seems that the level of response to heat emergencies is not matched even to the number of cold-weather emergency services available to people who are experiencing homelessness. Are we wrong about this? Does your community (homeless services or health departments) have cooling centers or make other extra efforts to ensure the homeless population has refuge from the summer heat? Let us know!

Other resources:
Change.org Post May 30, 2010 – How to Help the Homeless Beat the Heat
Health Care for the Homeless Council Hyperthermia factsheet

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