Issues 2016–June

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: HOMELESSNESS AND THE REST OF US

For many people finding an affordable safe place to live is difficult, if not impossible. Many find themselves without any shelter.

Here are some statistics about affordable housing from the North Carolina Housing Coalition. (link below).

 

HOUSING COSTS
$1,216: Median monthly homeownership cost (2009 dollars)
$764: Fair Market Rent for two-bedroom unit [i]
$14.68: Hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent
$7.25: Minimum wage in 2015
$3.88: SSI income as an hourly wage in 2012 (assuming 40 hours per week)
42.9%: Percent of renters that don’t earn enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent

Several local initiatives that are trying to increase the number of affordable housing options or towards ending homelessness caught my attention in May. They are, indeed, worthy of examination. Too many people are without shelter from the elements or a place to find rest.

Tiny Houses

One solution that seems to be working in other states and in limited trials in North Carolina is providing “tiny houses” to individuals without homes. These are, by definition, very small. They allow people to sleep, cook, and have toilet facilities available at little or no cost. In addition to safety from weather and possible physical assault, these homes build self-esteem. They can also create a history of rent payment when nominal rents are charged. When coordinated with other services such as mail box access, medical care, and employment assistance, these can make a great difference in many lives.

It isn’t, after all, much different than buying a large outbuilding for grandparents, returning adult kids, or work space. Insulated, plumbed, and wired, these make good options for many families.

It is worth noting that many people are choosing to downsize their lives and often find tiny houses to be a good alternative to expensive homes with more square footage than they actually need or want to care for.

Repurposed Urban Center Structures

Walking through a few cities and small towns that I visit regularly, I’ve noticed how many have urban centers or smaller business areas that are virtually abandoned. Even those buildings that have street-level tenants often have empty upper floors. I can’t help wondering if changing zoning laws would encourage more people to buy or rent there. I know many entrepreneurs, especially younger ones, who would love to live where they work. Many would like to have downstairs businesses and upstairs apartments. For that matter, with elevators and other adaptations, many retired families might like to live in such housing.

These might work for families that have fallen into homelessness, too. As either temporary or long-term housing, these are centrally-located and would make accessing services a little easier. Transportation, often a major problem, would be far less limited than in suburban areas.

Many suburban and rural areas are rehabilitating abandoned structures into affordable housing. These range from unused warehouses, churches, and storefronts to unlivable older homes and apartments. By upgrading these buildings and offering them at reasonable rates, living communities can grow. These social groups can be as small as a single home or quite large. Some have private rooms or small apartments with communal cooking and living areas. These are particularly useful for people who have lost their sense of acceptance by society, enabling them to build friendships and connections that make transitioning back into the larger community of their town easier.

One of the additional benefits of rehabbing older buildings is that neighborhoods in need of revitalization are provided with people happy to have homes.

Strange Possibilities for Interim Stability

I’ve also seen strange-but-workable use of the space between billboards, especially the large digital ones. This space can be enclosed, wired, and have simple plumbing installed. There are many other creative housing ideas online. These include tree houses, shipping containers, and houseboats. I’m waiting for dirigibles to find their place!

Really Mobile Homes: RVs

A surprising number of people are living in recreational vehicles, or RVs. I find it interesting how many people choose to live in them permanently or for the major portion of a year. This allows the “residents” to travel, a perk for those who are retired or, conversely, whose work requires traveling to fulfill obligations.

While new RVs are as costly as homes or apartments, used ones can be had for about the same cost as a used car. If assistance were available to refurbish and update these truly “mobile homes,” perhaps on the same model as accessing homes through Habitat for Humanity, I have no doubt many people would take advantage of this option.

Quite a few of RV parks allow long-term space rental. This can allow children to attend the same school throughout the school year. It can provide stability for those in need of medical help who might not be able to find traditional housing near their care facility. The cost of space rental isn’t cheap unless special long-term rates are available. However, this seems like a good way to stabilize many families until more permanent solutions could be found. For some, it is an adventurous option permitting easy travel.

 


North Carolina Housing Coalition

http://www.nchousing.org/research-data/facts_stats

North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

http://www.ncceh.org/pitdata/

 

DO POLITICIANS STILL BLUSH?

I long for the days when candidates were embarrassed by evidence of their ignorance and greed.

There was a time when we judged candidates on their perceived character. If it was “good,” if the individual was deemed compassionate, honest, educated, and trustworthy, they were seen in a positive light. Those who were “bad,” judged to be cold-hearted, prone to lies, ignorant, and untrustworthy, were considered poor choices for public office.

It goes without saying that this election cycle appalls me. How could it not?

Having lived through many elections I know that there are certain bellwethers that indicate when we have crossed into a danger zone. In this case, our nation is frighteningly divided. The status quo no longer works for the majority. One cannot help worrying about the future of our children as our country spirals further and further into a depth of darkness that seems intractable.

A half-hour or so online helped me to remember how important character was in elections a few decades ago. Here are some quotes I found illuminating, even knowing that these words often weren’t followed by actions.

*****     *****     *****

John F. Kennedy

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”

“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

“Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.”

“I’m an idealist without illusions.”

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last.”

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

 

William J. Clinton

“Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.”

“I want American Dream growth – lots of new businesses, well-paying jobs, and American leadership in new industries, like clean energy and biotechnology.”

“Well, first of all, I think that a lot of the voters who are voting for the tea party candidates have really good impulses. That is, they believe that for years and years and years, the people with wealth and power or government power have done well and ordinary people have not. That’s true.”

 

Jimmy Carter

“I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.”

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

“Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing… you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.”

“It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.”

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

“I can’t really criticize the Tea Party people, because I came into the White House pretty much on the same basis that they have become popular. That is dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Washington and disillusionment and disencouragement about the government.”

“It’s very difficult for the American people to believe that our government, one of the richest on Earth, is also one of the stingiest on Earth.”

“We must make it clear that a platform of ‘I hate gay men and women’ is not a way to become president of the United States.”

“We cannot be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of the weapons of war.”

“We can’t equate democracy with Christianity because the largest democracy on earth is India, which is primarily Hindu. The third largest democracy is Indonesia, which is Islamic. Democracy and freedom are not dependent on Christian beliefs.”

“Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. People have the right to expect that these wants will be provided for by this wisdom.”

 

George H. W. Bush

“The day will come – and it is not far off – when the legacy of Lincoln will finally be fulfilled at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, when a black man or woman will sit in the Oval Office. When that day comes, the most remarkable thing about it will be how naturally it occurs.”

“We don’t want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America.”

“You have to understand that people that are hurting are going to criticize.”

“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

 

George W. Bush

“Use power to help people. For we are given power not to advance our own purposes nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power and it is to serve people.”

“We don’t believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans.”

 

Imagination

There is much truth here. If we are limited to what our eyes see, we cannot envision anything better.

TuKawaii

The reason we have poverty is that we have no imagination. There are a great many people accumulating what they think is vast wealth, but it’s only money… they don’t know how to enjoy it, because they have no imagination.

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Issues 2016–May

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HUNGRY?

Have you ever been hungry? Really hungry?

I’m not talking about working late and not getting dinner at the customary time.

I’m not talking about going on a diet, though that might give you a hint of the first stages of hunger.

A startling number of people in the United States do not eat because they are hungry. They eat because the clock shows a certain time of day. They eat because they like food. They eat because they’re bored. Sometimes they eat because they enjoy the company at the table.

But they aren’t eating because they experience hunger.

Even more startling is the number of people in the United States who are often, if not daily, facing hunger. I’ve included some links below if you want statistics or viewpoints from those working to reduce hunger. Figures seem to hover around 1 in 4 or 5 people. Slightly higher figures are given for children and fragile populations such as the elderly and disabled. Most groups working with hungry people report that there is plenty of food in this nation. Access to food, however, is intimately linked to poverty.

I live in North Carolina, one of the states with high poverty and, consequently, high hunger rates. Things haven’t improved much since the economy collapsed in 2008.

My concern about hunger is personal. During the economic collapse, my family fell from the middle-class position we had struggled to maintain into poverty. Job loss led to housing loss. Before long we were struggling to survive. We were in good company; many others were experiencing long-term unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and loss of hope.

By 2013, we felt things might get better. We had a stable address. We had some hope for the future. There were temporary and part-time jobs. Still, we lived hand-to-mouth. A virus requiring days off work, a minor car problem (heaven forbid a major one), or a month when our Social Security check came later rather than sooner could set us back. Once bills were paid and late fees were added it would be nearly impossible to catch up.

When things were going well, we would have two  meals or a meal and a snack every day. We sometimes dined on a sandwich or two daily for several days at a stretch. When things weren’t going well, we went without food for a few days at a time. But we survived.

Then there was the time we almost didn’t. Late payments from people who owed us for work we had done combined with a late Social Security pay date and several unexpected expenses. Our electricity was disconnected until we could catch up; this meant we had no water because the pump was not active. We lived in a substandard home in a rural area; there were no soup kitchens easily accessible. We had just bought two weeks of groceries and spent the first few days eating what we could and watching the rest spoil in the refrigerator.

If you are squeamish, I recommend you skip the next few paragraphs. If you have experienced hunger, you will find it familiar but perhaps too painful to remember.

Have you ever been really hungry?

It isn’t what you expect. The first few days we ate what was left that was fresh. After that we went through the canned and dry goods. Water to drink or flush toilets required trips to the closest gas station or park to fill empty jugs. There was no way to cook perishables, so those were gone almost immediately. We were down to rice and water left in the sunshine, strategically placed on the car dash to keep bugs away. The sun will cook rice and noodles after a couple of hours this way. Then that, too, was gone.

Eleven days would pass from the day the electricity was cut until we had another reliable check due. Our late payments from clients arrived two days after that predictable one. Our health wasn’t good; no health insurance through several years of physical and emotional stress can do that to you. Doing without food for long stretches required managing diabetes and other issues.

We survived. We had nothing to eat and little water. The last couple of days we were cautious with water usage. We had to be vigilant since the car no longer had enough gas to get back from the gas station with more.

After days with little food, we had days more with none. At first we joked about our stomachs growling. My son joked that, after we had money again, we could move up to the same indoor plumbing the Romans had two thousand years ago. It seemed hilarious at the time. Many things seemed funny. Gallows humor, I guess.

Fatigue and anxiety were constants. I thought about going to a hospital but there was no money for that; it would have resulted in even more bills we couldn’t afford.

At one point I worried about what to do if one of us died. None of us wanted the others to die. We argued, when we had food still, about who should eat and who should not. My husband and I wanted my son to eat. He wanted us to eat. We all thought it would be better if we died so the others could live.

This is what true hunger does to families. It begins conversations that most people are loathe to consider. Most can’t even broach discussions of end-of-life, desire-for-a-natural-death issues when life is good. I worried about what to do with my corpse if I died, knowing that burial or cremation would be impossible financially. I felt helpless to prevent the expense of my death from leaving my family hungry for years beyond my leaving.

At a certain point, your stomach doesn’t growl any more. It stops gnawing at itself; the cramps go away. You stop going to the toilet; there is no longer anything inside your digestive system. Your skin dries to the point of cracking. With scarce water, feeling full by drinking isn’t an option.

It is difficult to contemplate the situation clearly and come up with a plan. I considered asking my neighbors for help but lacked the stamina to walk the 65 feet to their house.

Finally, we had money when our Social Security arrived. We had just enough gas to get to town.

Here’s what you might not know about being hungry: You can’t just start eating again.

You’re body has gone into survival mode. It cannot handle a sudden feast. Too much food right away will cause vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and cramping. We knew this because of shorter stretches with little to eat.

It didn’t matter.

We were so hungry we ate a regular meal, not huge but regular size for us. It was a very unwise choice. For days we suffered even though we tried to be smarter and build up from very small portions to normal meals after that first indiscretion. The physical pain lasted for weeks; the emotional pain will never disappear.

I understand hunger. I do not pretend to understand what people living through famines face, the trauma to the families affected by that. But I think I understand better than some people in the United States do.

I hope my willingness to talk about this will make you think about how you can help. I hope you will begin to notice the out-of-work neighbor who seems to be getting rather thin. If you notice that your coworker seems never to eat at break or at lunch, maybe you could bring something to share. If the cucumbers in your garden produce abundantly, share with someone. Take them to a food distribution center that can accept them, or to a church that has a kitchen.

When someone asks if you know anyone who has ever really been hungry, I want you to remember what you read here today.

We can help each other. We can each do what we can, when we can, how we can. Every action matters.

I am forever grateful to those who helped us, some of whom still do today. I try to pass it along every chance I get.

  • * * *
As a writer and artist, I process life a bit differently from some people. This micro-fiction resulted from this experience in my life.

When the Time Comes

            Clinging to the porch rail and her husband’s hand, she stumbled down the steps. From the rooftop the vultures watched and waited to be fed. She was dying, slowly to be sure, but dying. He blamed himself because she could not see a doctor. The farm no longer supported them. There was no money to bury her when the time came. They both knew it. And so they fed the vultures.

Copyright, Melanie Arrowood Wilcox
  • * * *

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx#verylow

https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140818-hu

nger-feeding-america-food-banks-aid-charities-meals-ngfood/

http://endhunger.org/

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-hunger-us

http://thehungersite.greatergood.com/clickToGive/ths/hunger-in-the-us

http://ncfoodbanks.org/hunger-in-north-carolina/