Homeless epidemic spreading from cities to suburbs, and no longer invisible

NORTH BEND, Ore. – Janet is one of those “invisible” Americans who live rough, and seem confused and wanting all the time; “I’m homeless, and I don’t have anything any longer,” says Janet with both real pain and confusion in her eyes as she stands on the street just after taking a nap in a vacant lot.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness states that “nearly 4 in 10 Americans are living on the street.” The Alliance also noted that from 2008 to 2009, “the number of unemployed people in America increased by 60 percent from 8.9 to 14.3 million,” and thus this contributed heavily to their homeless situations. Also, Oregon still leads the nation with the highest number of people living without homes, as evident here along the Oregon coast where many hundreds can be spotted sleeping in parks, by streams and on the beach.

Youth in nearby Eugene reaching out to homeless population

“Don’t feel badly about yourself if you don’t know better than to think that homeless people are lazy, stupid or violent people. Confusion is so easy. After all, understanding people is difficult when a limitless number of possible factors contribute to the mannerism, behaviors and characteristics of people,” writes Elizabeth Kathleen Gerrity of Eugene in a June 9 edition of the “Eugene Weekly.”

Gerrity, who admits to “experiencing multiple disabilities,” is one of many local youth who’ve put down their tech gadgets and are, instead, paying it forward by actually getting out on the streets to work with area homeless.

For instance, Gerrity is working on something she’s dubbed the “Anutuk Homeless Shelter Project” at http://bit.ly/gzPNbP that’s aimed at helping area homeless find solutions to their situation. “Many homeless people avoid the few existing shelters because of various factors, including prejudicial treatment,” she writes.

Artist uses homeless cardboard signs to bring about local awareness

Local Eugene artist Amy Bowers collects cardboard signs made by Eugene area homeless to help paint a picture that's not invisible to locals, but here now and most serious.

According to a profile in the June 9 edition of the Eugene Weekly, Bowers feels that the signs are a “discovered art form,” and now a fundraiser for Eugene’s “ShelterCare,” that serves members of the Eugene region homeless community “with a voice,” says Bowers who also notes how ShelterCare “works to rehabilitate those who have families or mental illness.”

“Among ShelterCare’s services are emergency shelter, one-on-one group support and assistance with basic needs such as food, clothing and supplies,” states the Eugene Weekly while also pointing to Bowers signs as “sitting hand in hand” with ShelterCare’s mission to help bring awareness to the plight of Oregon homeless that “our public deem invisible.”

Luke is one of the “invisible people” that are area homeless

Like an animal in a cage who, even if the door opened, wouldn’t dare move, so is the state of “Luke,” a 45-year-old former University of Oregon janitor who now lives off the kindness of strangers in the seaport town of Coos Bay. Luke is the only name that ne now uses. As for his homeless state, he’s very cold most of the time, always ill and “at the end of my rope,” says Luke with his eyes strangely veiled. Still, he has advice for Americans “so they won’t get in this mess.”

According to experts who work with homeless here in Oregon, “these people are so weighed down by a barrage of constant worries delivered around the clock that they can’t come up for air. They become the invisible people, but you see them on your street corners every day.”

A fishy piece of moon scuttled behind the rooftops of a nearby Taco Bell and motel near where Luke “hangs out” in Coos Bay. In a city with a perpetual sulk due to more than two years of 20 percent or higher unemployment, Coos Bay is not the best place in the world to live rough.

Homeless face endless rounds of trying to find a place to live

“I’ve been kicked out of my apartment in Eugene, and my friends over there will have nothing to do with me. I owe just about everyone, and darn if I will ever find a way to pay them back. You see you get so down low – too low for zero as my son Jamie said – that you can’t come up for air any longer. It’s just a waiting game until I kick,” explains Luke who’s wearing a pleated-black coat and nubby old blue jeans.

Luke recently got a hand-out, and purchased a bottle of cheap wine.

He’s sipping off it as he explains the who, what, when and why of his demise from society. With a self-punitive behavior, Luke said he’s no longer violent “because they will get me arrested." Instead, he’s become a grim, gray and distant sort of person. Was it the wine, or just summer coming on, but Luke seemed lost in his thoughts at one point during a recent interview. To look at his face and eyes was to see his mind move like gliding clouds, fading in and out of the heavens

“Here’s the answer,” he muttered. “I’d tell anyone out there to take care of the family first. Put all your energy into love and caring for your wife and kids. That’s what I’d do if I could do it all over again.”

Homeless in America growing with no end in sight

Today, mentally ill people are no longer kept in mental hospitals – if they can’t afford it – and, thus, society must have to deal with them.

“Many homeless people do not realize how sick they are, and how dependent they are on regular treatment. What we now have are homeless people in need of treatment on the streets,” states a recent report in the American Journal of Community Psychology.

Oregon boasts the highest homeless rate in America, and the squatter “towns” that have appeared around nearby Eugene and Portland attest to that, says local activist Mort Saitz.

“What we have here is a perfect storm with the recession already in its second year, and no real recovery in site. Add to that the Republican mandate to continue tax breaks for the richest Americans before they will allow emergency unemployment benefits and you have a country without means and heart to tackle the homeless crisis,” explains Saitz who works at various shelters in the central Oregon coast region.

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, “the recession will force 1.5 to 2 million people into homelessness over the next year. Although homelessness is a difficult number to measure definitively, officials think more and more people – especially families – will be sleeping in shelters, living in their cars and taking up residence in shanty town communities in 2011.

Moreover, a recent report out of the U.S. Conference of mayors cites “major increases in the number of homeless in 19 out of the 25 states surveyed, to include Oregon that also boasts the highest unemployment rate in the nation at more than 12 percent out of work.

Homeless a “cancer” eating away at American society

Saitz has dubbed homelessness a “cancer that’s eating away at our society.”

“Yes, you got yours. You got your health care, and a warm fire and hot toddy to enjoy over the holidays. But, your neighbor and a fellow human being right outside your door is suffering more than you know,” said the social activists who sees hundreds of homeless people “each and every day.”

With eyes narrowed in pain, Saitz remembers “a tall distinguished-looking man in his late forties who was slim but powerfully built. He came close to me and said: “I’m out of work, I lost my wife and kids to this recession and I need help.”

One approximation of the annual number of homeless in America is from a new study produced by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, states that between 2.3 and 3.5 million people in America “experience homeless.”

Moreover, a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report points to “an estimated 800,000 Americans” experienced homeless in one night recently.

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