Homelessness is a major issue in the City of Memphis. According to a 2013 report by the Community Alliance for The Homeless, homelessness has decreased by 13 percent between 2012 and 2013. However, one does not have to look high and low to observe the faces of countless men, women, and yes, even children who won’t have a safe place to sleep tonight.
Obviously, there are many factors that contribute to homelessness. The greatest contributor to what has become a national epidemic in the United States is an appalling lack of affordable housing. Rents today are higher than ever, forcing families and individuals to tighten their belts on other basic necessities such as food, transportation, child care, and medical costs.
In 2012, Memphis was ranked with the highest overall poverty rate of Metropolitan Statistical Areas with populations greater than 1,000,000, with 28.3 percent of people living below the poverty line. This is almost twice the national average of 15.9 percent of Americans living in poverty.
Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) are one of the few safety nets for low-income households, struggling to survive and avoid becoming homeless. Rents continue to climb and incomes continue to fall. As more and more families find themselves in unstable housing situations, waiting lists continue to grow. The unfortunate result is that only one in four individuals in desperate need of housing assistance actually receives it. In Memphis, the waiting list for Section 8 housing is around 10,000.
Recently, cuts to vouchers have left even more families without stable homes. Last year, the sequester created a 72,000 national reduction in households receiving vouchers. Adding to this significant blow to low-income earners is the House of Representatives’ recent cuts to rental assistance to the tune of 80,000 households. The Senate’s version of the HUD budget would deepen these cuts by 76,000 vouchers.
Those are the numbers, but let’s put a human face on this issue. These cuts will have the most devastating consequences for those least able to afford housing. People with disabilities, the elderly on fixed income, veterans, and poor families will inevitably suffer the most. Across the country, programs such as the 100k Homes initiative have been making headway in the fight to end chronic homelessness. In Memphis, this program has effectively ended 471 collective years of homelessness in 8 months.
However, there are countless individuals that are on the brink of becoming homeless. If we do not take action against these massive cuts, the progress being made could easily be reversed. We cannot allow this to happen.
This is a crisis like none other, but we can all do something to help. Contact your Congressional representatives and let them know that these cuts to rental assistant programs are unacceptable.
– Paul Garner
HOPE (Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality)
Mid-South Peace & Justice Center