Super-storms bearing names like Katrina and Sandy wreak havoc on the lives of people who live in their paths. Katrina ruined 1.2 million homes in the South, and Sandy destroyed 380,000 homes in the East.
When the wind died down and the wreckage was assessed, many families and individuals were deemed homeless.
Do I dare ask if these people were really homeless?
Yes, of course they were. Their homes were destroyed, leaving them without anywhere to live. They were homeless, at least temporarily.
But they weren’t homeless in the same way as Bob, who has been living on the streets of Los Angeles for 12 years.
If Bob had become homeless as a result of a hurricane, or an earthquake, the federal government would offer him a long-term loan to build a new house, direct assistance to fix up an existing house, and/or help with employment, food, and clothing to get his life back on track.
FEMA would come to his rescue if his home had been destroyed by a storm. Emergency shelter would be built or created out of converted school gymnasiums overnight. Good-hearted Americans from around the country would flock to his neighborhood to help rebuild.
This is what would happen if a disaster had made Bob homeless, because everyone would know that he would be back in housing, in one way or another, in the near future.
A disaster-relief-like response toward people like Bob, who were homeless, did occur in the 1980s. When homelessness increased in America, many people thought that building shelters and setting up food programs would quickly transition people like Bob back into housing.
Many nonprofit homeless agencies were created in the 1980s.
30 years later, the storm of homelessness still rages on the streets of America, with some communities giving up hope.
What if the 380,000 homes ruined by Hurricane Sandy never got fixed? What if, in the year 2042, former homeowners and renters from the East Coast still wandered the streets in search of food, clothing, and a place to live? It would be a national disgrace.
Yet hundreds of thousands of people who were homeless back in 1980 are still homeless today. And the disaster, called homelessness, continues to haunt America.
Sure, food programs and a limited supply of emergency shelter cots are there for Bob. Sure, a small number of new permanent homes are built each year. But, after years of neglect, Bob’s dreams of home are fading.
Bob’s homelessness is much more permanent than a family who lost their home to pounding winds and rain a few months ago.
It seems to me that we need to start approaching homelessness like a national disaster. Disasters require speedy responses, while the current anti-poverty approaches lean toward long-term limited resources.
Maybe we need a FEMA-like rescue for people experiencing homelessness, in which the federal government doesn’t simply make annual allocations to appease homelessness advocates and charitable organizations, but instead mobilizes its resources to get these vulnerable Americans living on our streets back into homes within months.
Perhaps FEMA could fix its tarnished image, created by a slow Katrina response, by tackling the disaster of homelessness.