Homelessness, Housing Shortages, Funding Cuts, and Misplaced Priorities
by Fred Kammer, S.J.
The 1949 U.S. Housing Act declared that the general welfare and security of our post-war nation required the establishment of a national housing policy to realize, as soon as feasible, the goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for every family in America. It was a goal in keeping with Catholic social teaching on basic human rights (see article on page 5) and reflected the turn of the nation’s attention to domestic matters after years of war.
Now, more than 65 years later, we should reflect on how we have kept this pledge of decent housing for every family. There are several measures to consider. The one most in the public eye is widespread homelessness. The homeless “snapshot” taken across the nation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in January 2014 revealed that over half a million people (578,424) were homeless at that time. Almost half that number (216,261) were people in families; 45,205 were unaccompanied children and youth; and 49,933 were veterans. Table 1 (page 2) shows homeless statistics at that time for the nation, the Gulf South states, and the Gulf South region.
While mental health and substance addiction certainly factor into the homelessness phenomenon, the costs of housing and the economic status of U.S. families are critical factors, as well.
by Ali R. Bustamante, JustSouth Monthly March 2015
Since June 2014, the average price of a barrel of oil has fallen from more than $100 to about $50. Many states, including those in the Gulf South, are considering budget cuts to higher education, healthcare, and social services in order to deal with oil revenue shortfalls. But is the oil revenue shortfall really the culprit? Contrary to what state budget offices profess, pressure to public services stems from the inadequacy and regressive nature of tax structures and not from oil revenue shortfalls.
For example, the Gulf South’s most oil-revenue dependent state, Louisiana, has an oil revenue shortfall of $376 million for fiscal year 2014-15. However, the budget shortfall not related to oil revenues was already an alarming $1.2 billion before oil prices began to drop. Louisiana’s budget deficit is mainly driven by an inadequate and unfair tax structure of tax exemptions and credits for corporations and the wealthy worth more than $3 billion a year.
Banner Photo: Shutterstock
By Fred Kammer, SJ
Poverty is one of the three focus areas for the work of JSRI. In their 1986 book-length pastoral letter Economic Justice for All the US Bishops reminded us of the importance of confronting poverty in these words: "Dealing with poverty is not a luxury to which our nation can attend when it finds the time and resources. Rather, it is a moral imperative of the highest priority."
But what does it mean to speak of poverty in the United States? Drawing on the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, the bishops explained it this way, “By poverty, we are referring here to the lack of sufficient material resources required for a decent life.” Then, in the next sentence, they acknowledge the complexity of the question, “We use the government’s definition of poverty, although we recognize its limits.” And a footnote introduces elements of the national debate about what we call “the poverty line.” [Continue on to MORE about measuring poverty and poverty in the Gulf South.]
ARCHIVED ARTICLES ON POVERTY
The Payday Shark in Your Bank Account -- Mikulich
Catholicism and Capitalism -- Kammer
Banner Image: Brenda Ann Keneally/AmericanPoverty.org