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Editorial: Fighting Homelessness

Nov 12, 2019     admin   1 Comment         Film

NOTE: This editorial was previously published in The Virginian-Pilot on December 30, 2018.

I LOVE LILY. For a few days earlier this month, this sweet “Sesame Street” puppet turned our gaze to a problem hidden in plain sight in this country: family homelessness.

Despite a booming economy, homelessness in the United States continues to persist and grow. After 20 years of disinvestment by the federal government in our affordable housing infrastructure, housing has become increasingly unaffordable for millions of Americans.

Tent cities have sprung up in most of our nation’s major metropolitan areas. The sight of families living under bridges and bypasses has become common in Silicon Valley; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; and Lubbock, Texas.

Many homeless families’experience will be similar to that of Lily, who said, “We’ve been staying in all different kinds of places.” Families will stay with relatives and friends, and they’ll continue to move, unable to save enough money for a stable home.

But “Sesame Street” took it easy on us. Lily is staying with friends in a kind neighborhood. In reality, because her family is staying with friends, her family won’t qualify for most HUD-funded homeless programs. Children in Lily’s situation are likely to move regularly, live in overcrowded, chaotic conditions, and often experience domestic violence. Research shows this will affect their mental and physical health as well as their educational and developmental progress.

The Housing Crisis Hotline, operated by ForKids, has taken 50,000 calls over the past 12 months from 25,750 households in Hampton Roads. To put that in perspective, on a typical Monday we receive 400 to 500 calls from households facing eviction, seeking shelter, living without functional utilities or facing other difficulties with housing stability.

As Norfolk embarks on the demolition of 1,700 public housing units and housing costs in Hampton Roads continue to rise, our region needs to take concrete action to address housing affordability, lesttent cities become a part of our future, as they have in other cities. Proactive zoning for multi-family housing and funding for affordable housing must be part of every city’s comprehensive plan and annual budgets.

Community leaders must embrace our housing infrastructure as essential to our region’s long-term economic health and prosperity. Sherri Westin with Sesame Workshop said, “We want (homeless children) to know that they are not alone and home is more than a house or an apartment. Home is wherever the love lives — the love within a family and a community.” Most of us would agree that our homes are defined by more than their physical walls, and stripping them away eliminates our fundamental safety and security. It takes away the essence of “home.”

At ForKids, the children are quite real. They and their parents fill our shelter beyond capacity. Recently, a newborn baby girl — born into homelessness — arrived with her mother to claim the last spaces in our overflow shelter. This beautiful child, and many others like her, need permanent, stable homes.

Thaler McCormick, CEO, ForKids, Norfolk

Learn more about homelessness in Norfolk in our upcoming documentary City Voices. whro.org/cityvoices


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