This week, we’ll be focusing on social issues, but not the big hot button topics. Let’s face it, some of these topics get plenty of attention. Reproductive rights, unemployment, healthcare in general – they all get plenty of media coverage, lots of lip service from politicians.
But what about those social issues that don’t end up in the limelight. Like homelessness. Or poverty. Mental care is another. These are all issues that seem to have few champions and get little real attention. They aren’t glamorous. They aren’t easy to fix, nor is there much to gain from being on opposite sides if these issues. So, if there isn’t that much controversy, why isn’t more being done to solve them, or at least improve them.
Let’s look at some statistics:
Homelessness: I went looking for statistics. Mind you, homelessness is a difficult thing to measure. The criteria for someone to be considered homeless vary from institution to institution. I know this first hand. When we went through a rough patch late last year and my daughter and I had to stay with friends for a few months, the school district considered us homeless. We had a roof over our head, but as far as they were concerned, we were homeless.
As a rule, when government organizations count the homeless, they do so based on shelter usage and soup kitchen attendance. But this method can significantly underestimate the total number of people. When soup kitchens or shelters turn people away because they have hit their capacity, those individuals aren’t counted.
And there’s not a whole lot of data to back any of the estimates up. It’s just not a priority. Information is dated and likely underreported. A 2007 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million people, nearly a third of them children, are likely to find themselves homeless in a given year. This is based on 2007 data. That number is quite likely much higher now.
There are folks trying to help. One guy, Mark Horvath has started a site, invisiblepeople.tv, where he highlights the plight of homeless folks on video. He’s just one guy. There are many others. But still, they don’t get the media attention they need to really effect change.
Poverty: According to data released on Sept. 13th , 2011, the number of people living below the poverty level in the United States climbed to it’s highest since 1993. At 15.1% of the population, more than 1 in 7 people live in poverty. That’s in this country, approximately 43.6 million people.
For a family of four, that’s living on an income of less than $22,350 annually. It does not take into account cost of living, just the income available. For example, in some areas, such as Southern California, where the median home price is over $500,000, housing costs are far higher. Yet the poverty measurement does not adjust for this. Therefore, it is quite likely that although the income level for determining poverty is the same, many more people live in effective poverty as the cost to maintain a household is far higher, even for renters.
This disparity means that like homelessness, poverty is likely underreported and is more severe a problem than we realize.
Mental Health: It is estimated that 25% of the adults in the US population are diagnosable for one or more disorders. Nearly 6% (1 in 17) would be considered severe diagnoses. Of those 25% of adults, slightly over a third are getting treatment (36%) thorough healthcare, with another 5% receiving some other form of treatment. That leaves 59% of adults that should be getting treatment going without it.
The range of mental health issues requiring some form of treatment is vast, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders – a long list. And yet, it is another topic that gets very little attention from the media, until someone with a mental disorder does something sensational enough for the evening news.
Whether mental health, poverty or homelessness, there is a common thread: We don’t like to talk about them. But why?
Perhaps it is fear. We look at some of these folks in their tattered clothes, their dirty faces, and we fear. Or we see people wearing obvious hand-me-downs and reflexively turn away. Or we see someone with a vacant look in their eyes, speaking at the sky. And we fear.
The fear is a natural reaction. They are different, and humans fear that which is different. We have trouble processing it, and that trouble, that uncertainty raises fears within us.
But perhaps the reason we look the other way is also rooted in shame. We can do something for these folks, but most of us don’t. We can help the homeless – but we don’t. We can do something about those living in poverty – but we don’t. We can do something about helping those with mental illnesses – but we don’t.
So maybe the reason we look away is because we’re ashamed that we haven’t done more.
Fixing the fear is as simple as facing it. Talk to someone who is enduring these hardships. Find out who they are as individuals, not just another homeless person. Find out how they got there.
Then you can solve the second problem – doing something about it.
This week we are featuring stories on the issues of homelessness, poverty and mental health. If you have a story you’d like to contribution, send it to email@example.com. It can be a sentence, a paragraph, a full blog post, even a video. We want to hear your stories.