Family homelessness calls for urgent action and long-term solutions
As our Commonwealth braces for a potential tripling of evictions and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on an already strained shelter system, United Way supports the Boston City Council’s efforts to establish a special commission to end family homelessness (”Boston lays the groundwork to end family homelessness,” Editorial, Nov. 24).
As your editorial rightly points out, this work also needs to begin — now — at a statewide level. The depopulation of shelters because of the public health crisis has meant the loss of 800 beds for a system that was already beyond capacity. Even hospitals and jails have no place to discharge people today.
An estimated 161,000 households in Massachusetts are currently behind on their rent, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. We cannot afford to let families become homeless at this scale. We need more resources to help families weather emergencies, and we need to pilot innovative programs and champion education equity for homeless children across the Commonwealth.
Besides addressing the urgent needs now, we also must think big by beginning long-term planning to close the statewide gap in units needed to provide housing for all individuals and families experiencing homelessness. As United Way lays the foundation for a statewide campaign to end homelessness, we call on elected officials, business leaders, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector to join us. Our communities can’t wait.
President and CEO
United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
What if we called the problem ‘houselessness’?
In response to your editorial on ending homelessness, I would like you to consider substituting the term “houselessness.” It calls attention to a solution: housing.
Bonding to a geographic location, a home, is fundamental to humans and most animals. People who live outdoors have routines. They emotionally attach to a place outdoors. That is their home.
Describing somebody as “homeless” implies an inability to connect that so-called normal people can’t understand. It makes the “homeless” inhuman and easy to ignore.
The term “houseless” is novel. Curious people may pause, and reconsider. Hopefully that will include recognizing our fundamental similarities and the true challenge: lack of housing.
The Dow grows, as do lines for food banks
The contrast between the two headlines in the Nov. 25 edition could not be more stark: “Dow eclipses 30,000 for 1st time amid news on vaccines, transition” (Business) and “ ‘I’ve never seen anything like this kind of need’: Food banks struggle to keep up with demand in a time of such hardship” (Page A1). These stories reflect the chasm between the two Americas within our borders.
The “haves” are jubilant with announcements of effective vaccines to end COVID-19’s scourge and the green light President-elect Biden’s transition team now has for the transfer of power. Stability is good for the economy, and the Dow reflects that prospect.
The “have-nots,” who account for the growing majority of our citizens, surely welcome the upbeat vaccine news, but they’re not ready or able to pop the cork. They’re hungry. A surging Dow does not sate their pangs. They have more urgent needs in feeding their families.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have a daunting task ahead in bridging this deep divide. It will be arduous, but as in all long journeys, it may begin with a single step. That step is on Jan. 20, 2021.
Don’t overlook challenges college students face
Who do you think of when you imagine someone who is homeless or going hungry? Do you think of a college student struggling to pay for meals, tuition, housing, and many other expenses at the same time?
People often overlook college students when they consider the hungry or homeless, and these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Hope Center found that about 40 percent of college students experience food insecurity. In addition, 15 percent of students at four-year institutions and 11 percent of students at two-year institutions have experienced homelessness because of the pandemic.
What’s more, the pandemic has caused job insecurity for numerous college students. My job was closed because of the pandemic, so I found myself with less money to spend on the costs of going to college.
When the CARES Act was passed this year I, like many college students, was extremely grateful to receive some assistance. We can’t expect college students to shoulder the burdens of the pandemic alone. We should be supporting them. One way is to ensure that the next COVID-19-related relief bill includes provisions for college students.
The writer is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an intern at the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.