THE BLOG
09/23/2008 01:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hurricane Homelessness


Five million home loans are either delinquent or in foreclosure. Five million! Add to those five million displaced homeowners still more thousands who've just lost their homes and jobs to yet one more hurricane (this one named Ike), and we've got a problem not yet even mentioned - Homelessness.

There aren't enough green shelter cots for what could be millions of new homeless men, women and children. As meltdowns, bailouts, mergers and various ministrations are pondered in response to this unprecedented economic crisis, it's clear that the little guy is once again taking it on the chin. The mortgage meltdown, which supposedly was the start of this mess, now has every displaced, foreclosed-on, once-upon-a-time homeowner scrambling for somewhere to live.

For far too many, that somewhere to live is nowhere.

With all this going on, the Palins aren't the only folks with another surprise baby. But instead of cleverly using some Iditarodish name, our baby is simply named Sudden Unexpected Poverty. So what do the candidates say about the future of America's squalling new babe?

If you're John McCain, you'll promise to make the eradication of poverty a top administration priority, asserting that "a strong and vibrant America, one in which people can move up into the middle class, put their kids through college, work hard and one day retire in dignity, is critical to not only our economic future but to the very security of our nation." But then you'll vote time and again against minimum wage increases, arguing that any increase can hurt small businesses.

In contrast, if you're Barack Obama, you'll aim to create 20 "Promise Neighborhoods," choosing places that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of academic achievement. In those neighborhoods, you'll call for "a full network of services" that will be provided "from birth to college." You'll co-sponsor the Global Poverty Act, which calls on the president to develop a comprehensive agenda to cut extreme global poverty in half by 2015. You'll consistently support legislation to increase the minimum wage.

If you're possibly one who lives economically within that proverbial "one paycheck away" from homelessness, what would that mean for you?

The face of homelessness cannot be painted, although some try. In simple terms, home for most of us is a place where we can accumulate the physical things that support us in leading a productive life. Home is where we wash our clothes, cook our meals, and restore ourselves. Most of us never think how impossible it is to get ahead without a simple place to keep things, or how for some, resourcefulness calls for shopping carts, the weight of duffel bags across our backs. We need to know that grocery store plastic bags are the cupboards of the poor.

For many homeless, they are on display, before strangers, on the street, every hour of the day. For the homeless, there's no place from which to be productive and giving, to be restored, to be welcomed, to be themselves, to give physical expression to their personalities. The homeless are, quite simply, deprived of their humanity.

Restoring folks to economic security requires more than grudging public expenditure for warehouses filled with palpable fear and community showers. It requires attention and engagement from all of us, as well as, a willingness to focus on those living in poverty and homelessness not as statistics, but as hurting individuals. It takes knowing that it could be any of us. It takes our leaders to create sound economic policy ... and voters who choose policy over who we'd like to have a beer with or who has stylish shoes and eyeglasses.

There's a vast difference between voting time and again to protect corporations over the little guy ... and actually creating policy and legislation to improve the lives of those who live in poverty. We're in a dismal mess right now. While the Bush/McCain policies have roiled our economic waters with storms of deregulation, mismanagement and calls for an exotic-sounding "ownership society," they finally accomplished what they've wanted to do for the past twenty some years -- they've taken the baby out of the bathwater and thrown him to the streets.