If there was one thing that the three Democratic candidates agreed on in their recent South Carolina debate it was poverty. And like the pastor's position on sin, they were all "agin it."
In fact, it was sort of like a game of "Can You Top This" as, one after another, they described how their lives were involved in some way with poverty - either they nearly experienced it, worked to eradicate it , listened to personal stories about it, whatever. They laid it all out. And John Edwards may, in fact, have won on this issue when he seemed to firmly establish himself as the resident expert on the trials and tribulations of those who occupy the very bottom of the poverty food chain, those in the homeless pavilion.
Of course it's not a pavilion at all, but rather a collection of bad alternatives - alleys, back seats of cars, scraps of cardboard under urban freeways, empty lots and sidewalks.
And, despite the statements of the candidates, history suggests that once the campaign smoke clears, it unfortunately seems as though little is ever done about the problem.
On occasion, I'll exit downtown L.A. by driving east along 5th Street, past an area favored by the homeless, and it has left me with some lasting visual memories. I'll never forget the mother and three young daughters who had staked out a patch of the sidewalk beside a pile of clothes that perhaps represented what was left of their worldly possessions. It was growing dark but their silhouettes were clearly visible and I'd wished I had a camera with me.
Three weeks ago, the L.A. TV station KNBC reported in a program entitled "Forgotten Neighbors" that approximately 88,000 people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County every night, of which 24,000 are women and 30,000 are children whose mothers battle every day for their survival and to keep them in school.
Furthermore, the numbers are growing and the segment of our population most at risk of joining the ranks of the homeless is the working poor, particularly more working mothers and their children who are but one paycheck away from losing their homes.
The working poor make up 40% of LA County's workforce. In an economy that is at best shaky, there is growing concern that the homeless population may explode.
At both the local and national levels some efforts are being made to help alleviate the problem but it appears to be a losing battle.
The Bush administration launched a program to eliminate homelessness over a ten year period and last year they were getting high fives for the results reported by a "Street Survey" taken in 2006.
However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the improvement was largely due to a redefinition of the term "homeless," which ended up moving a significant number of people out of the loop. For homeless people who live in rural America, and for families everywhere with children, the news was pretty bad - they just simply didn't get counted, according to the paper.
The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia reports that at least 3.5 million people experience homelessness in any given year in the United States and 1.37 million are children under the age of 18. The Christian Science Monitor reported that none of these children were counted in the 2006 street census.
John Edwards also tells us that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on the streets right now.
A year ago, it was reported that there was then no town, city or state anywhere in America where an individual or a family working full time and earning the minimum wage could afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rental established by HUD.
The failings of the federal government, in this regard, were effectively summed up by the Christian Science Monitor in the following paragraph.
"Families without stable housing face transportation barriers that make job retention and children's school continuity difficult. But because we can't get HUD to agree with the Department of Education or with the Department of Health and Human Services on a single definition of homelessness, these families are often stuck in a downward spiral, unable even to begin the process of trying to be self-sufficient."
This nation has many problems of a high priority. It is important, however, that the leadership in Washington and at the local level refocus their efforts on the plight of the working poor, or this problem will surely spin out of control.
Dave McGill, News Correspondent
Dave's column, "The Contrarian," generally published every Wednesday, to Gather Essentials: News will sometimes present a contrary view to various aspects of the news, or an alternate take on the conventional wisdom of the day, and will occasionally also appear on other days of the week
Dave has been a senior officer of a large eastern insurance company, involved in economic projections and investment strategy, president of a Midwestern mortgage banking company, and a financial consultant in Southern California, serving clients in the field of commercial real estate development
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