Homeless by bureaucracy

A Street Roots Editorial

JCherry-1-6Take a good look at these faces. They reflect the faces of today’s homeless population – right before they become homeless.

They are not the faces of people who are lazy, addicted or chose the streets. They are among the tens of thousands of the people who are working hard, right now, to get a solid footing during the most difficult economic conditions of our lifetimes.

They are not about to become homeless because they failed, but because they system they relied upon, the one they were directed to, failed them.

By July 1, the funding need to keep the family on page 8 in housing, to offset their disabilities while they recover, to keep their children in good schools and a stable environment, will disappear, as it will for 284 other recipients of Section 8 housing assistance in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties. The blame ricochets between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD and the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, which distributes the Section 8 assistance to the poor, disabled and elderly in the three-county region.

But lost in the numbers game both agencies play, are the families that will pay with their lives.

For the past four years, HUD, and by proxy Congress, has directed its attentions, money and public relations around a campaign to end chronic homelessness – a strict category of people who have been homeless at length or repeatedly over the course of several years. It promoted solutions through a nationwide canopy of 10-year plans to end homelessness, channeling funds for the homeless and addiction, and on its virtue touted numbers and platitudes to extol the Bush administration’s commitment to ending the plight of the down-and-out. None of which did a thing for the 285 people and their families who received letters in Northwest Oregon informing them that they won’t get the assistance they have qualified for, waited years for, and deserve. Despite the demonstrated need, and unprecedented economic calamities, the federal system will not continue to pay for the service it exists to render. That is the machinery of poverty that is still grinding away behind the Obama administration.

Immediate action by HUD is required. Regardless of who is to blame for the mishaps bureaucratically, HUD has the ability to right the wrongs in this specific instance. More so, HUD and the administration need to find a way to correct the broken system.

For three decades we have been treating poor people and homelessness as if they were the problem – this kind of thinking institutionally has to end.

Locally, City Commissioner Nick Fish and other politicians that champion these issues need to move on promises to reform the Section 8 program in Oregon, where landlords can discriminate against renting to recipients of such assistance.

For the many families throughout Oregon that will be kicked to the curb as of July 1, it’s death by a thousand cuts. The shortsighted approach taken to date leaves too much room for scapegoating the people caught in the cracks; people like the ones on page 8, who deserve to be more than a statistic.Take a good look at these faces. They reflect the faces of today’s homeless population – right before they become homeless.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

6 responses to “Homeless by bureaucracy

  1. Thanks for shining a light on this problem.

    We are working to fix the problems with the Section 8 program, including:

    1. County Commissioner Kafoury and I are chairing a task force to address barriers facing voucher-holders.

    2. I am working with HAP and the VA Hospital to get to full utilization of all VASH vouchers within 60 days.

    3. HAP and the City of Portland have offered technical assistance to Northwest Oregon.

    We are committed to 100% utilization of existing vouchers, and to removing barriers faced by too many voucher-holders.

    Thanks again.

    Nick Fish

  2. Perfect. Thanks for all your work on this issue.

    HAP and City of Portland have offered technical assistance to NW Oregon – please tell more?

    – Israel Bayer

  3. Pingback: Families are being booted to the streets in Oregon: It’s now or never! Take action! « For those who can’t afford free speech

  4. hersheyshuggs

    I am currently enrolled in college and walked in to doing a paper about TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) based upon a stance I took in class which made me upset. This program started in 1996 and replaced the welfare program created from the Roosevelt administration. I am finding more and more stories like you have described and the only real power left to the people is to scream for change. In this serious economic down turn of the economy, people are going to turn to this assistance for the first time, and they are going find out that there will be many road blocks to gain access to get finacial help. Then, they will find out that there is a specific time limit set upon them; and when the time runs away from them, there will be no hope to assist in their need. If this is your family pictured here, then I feel your pain and frustration.

  5. Everything about this story painful and frustrating. It’s also a crime that the Oregonian or bigger paper hasn’t picked it up…


  6. This is unacceptable. Housing is too essential to have profit trump common sense. If these folks arrive at the deadline with no other options — we need to physically respond to this travesty by refusing to allow our friends to be kicked out of the then vacant homes. If the local folks put out the call to defend, I (and others) will come.

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