Opinion

Are You Really Homeless if a Hurricane Destroys Your House?

By | Jan 14, 2013

When a once-in-a-decade act of God descends on our country’s coastline, commercial and residential properties are inevitably damaged or destroyed by the angry wind and rain.

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.

8 Comments

  1. Posted Jul 9, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    The line of storms that produced them then roared east Saturday, triggering tornado watches and warnings for parts of the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and South Carolina,

  2. Posted Mar 28, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Natural disasters like this are horrible and they bring about a lot of suffering and problems. But I don't think you can compare something like this to the problem of homeless people.

  3. Posted Mar 31, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    People don't remain homeless after things like this. They are taken care off, one way or another. Unlike the real homeless people…

  4. Posted Apr 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Nope, you're homeless only after you asked every living relative, friend or even aquaintance for help and they said no, if your bank account is empty and your employer doesn't know you anymore

  5. Posted Apr 3, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Does this really happen? I mean, I know some people are less talkative than others, but how low can you get so that nobody you know helps you after everything you own has been lost in a hurricane?

  6. Posted Apr 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Not necessarily, because there are non-profits which usually handle these cases… For the unlucky ones, though, it sometimes means homelessness

  7. Posted Apr 11, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    That's one tough question… if you can find another home and afford to rent it or to buy it, you're not homeless

  8. Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Well, how do you think some of them became homeless in the first place? Most of the homeless people we see on the streets nowadays were once honest working people, but it's extremely hard to come back on your feet once you lose it all…