Millions of blogs populate the blogosphere, each with a different viewpoint. When you visit The Carpetology Blog, for example, you expect to read a little something about carpet, a little something about interior design, a little something about houses and homes.
But today, we're changing the conversation, as are over 11,000 other bloggers around the world for Blog Action Day 2008. The topic? Poverty.
Since Carpetology is all about homes and lifestyles, today, we're discussing the other end of that spectrum - homelessness as it results from poverty.
There are millions of people in the United States who experience homelessness every year. Sometimes, it's a temporary situation. Sometimes, it's chronic, a result of a mental illness or disability, substance abuse or domestic violence. Regardless of its cause, it affects men and women and children from all backgrounds, cities and states of mind. Occasionally, there are people who choose to live a mobile lifestyle, but for those who don't have a choice, we can all universally agree that homelessness is not an ideal circumstance, to put it mildly.
A few facts:
- According to the National Coalition for the Homeless: Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.
- Additional causes of homelessness may include a lack of affordable health care, natural disasters or unexpected emergencies, and a variety of personal factors - mental illness, institutional release or a lack of education being just a few.
- Also from the NCH: Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. Being poor means being an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.
So what to do about homelessness? I don't claim to be an expert on the topic, nor do I have all the answers; I'm not sure anyone does. On a national or even global level, this problem is overwhelming. But there are people who strive daily to make small changes, to help reverse the trend of homelessness one person at a time. Here in St. Louis, on a local level, a few projects deserve some attention.
St. Patrick Center St. Patrick Center provides opportunities for self-sufficiency and dignity to persons who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Individuals achieve permanent, positive changes in their lives through affordable housing, sound mental health, employment and financial stability.
The center is located in downtown St. Louis and is the largest provider of homeless services in Missouri. Basically, the center and its employees and volunteers help people move from homelessness to independence cost-effectively and efficiently. It serves 9,000 clients yearly through 20 programs and 13 partners and serves as a national example for best practices.
One of the most incredible programs of St. Patrick center is McMurphy's Grill, a full-service restaurant for training homeless/mentally ill clients. Instead of just offering handouts, the Grill provides a way for clients to receive training for three to six months, then helps them find permanent work in food service. It even features Celebrity Host Wednesdays when community leaders can invite and "host" their friends, families and colleagues to come into the restaurant to eat lunch and contribute to McMurphy's.
Recently, St. Patrick Center just launched BEGIN: Businesses, Employment, Growth, Incomes, Neighborhoods. This brand new center offers a place for clients to find the support, tools, education, support and community needed to start their own businesses and support themselves.
What's Up St. Louis: As a writer and editor, this program touches me deeply. What's Up is a magazine that is written and produced, marketed and sold by homeless persons. "The Whats Up Magazine Homeless Empowerment Project has many faces, a newspaper, an advocacy group, and a Homeless Speakers Bureau. We do a lot, and all of it is working toward building bridges among the poor, homeless and the greater community, while engaging the broader public in fighting for economic justice."
Founded by Jay Swoboda, a man known in St. Louis for his green development projects, What's Up's mission is "to empower men and women who are homeless or at risk of being so, as they work towards gainful empowerment and self-sufficiency. Whats Up organizes, educates, and builds alliances to connect community-based solutions to homelessness and poverty by comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable."
Homeless persons on staff take part in the sales, advertising and production of the magazine. And the publication's content promotes social awareness. Personally, I can't think of anything more empowering than seeing my words in print and watching others read and be affected by what I have written, especially when my words can affect change. What better way to "comfort the disturbed" and "disturb the comfortable?"
St. Patrick Center and What's Up certainly don't even solve the problem of homelessness in St. Louis, let alone the U.S. But they're two thriving examples of what all of us can do at a local level to alter the situation and enact social change. And Blog Action Day is a reminder that if we all work together, we can actually make a difference.