The weather this past December not only played havoc on retail sales, but ruined many holiday celebrations by causing electrical outages, undelivered packages and relatives unable to travel to be with family. CBN News reports that December brought the coldest weather some areas have seen in decades. I don't think global warming was a factor this December. In fact this year a reading of 135.8 degrees below zero was measured in Antarctica, which is the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth, so even though the cold ruined the holidays for many retailers and families, in comparison to other places on earth, the USA made it through -- but wait until January which is set to look much like December's weather.
With this extreme weather we are having, I just can't imagine what it would be like to be homeless during this time. USA Today reported on a financial advisor, Isaac Simon, who on Tuesday evenings for the last six years in Manhattan, packs his white van with soup, bagels, milk and oranges and drives into areas where the homeless gather. He also has clothes to help those less fortunate. When you think that New York City, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, has a census in their homeless shelters of 51,000 which happens to be the entire population of Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, you know America has a problem that we can't just sweep under the rug. With that many people in need, we need hundreds of Isaac Simons to help just in Manhattan alone.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 25 large and midsize cities indicates that homelessness and hunger have increased and are expected to continue to rise in 2014. The poverty rate in the U.S. of 15 percent is still near the Great Recession's high of 15.1 percent. In Los Angeles, 20,000 people sleep on the streets every night and 2,000 of them are families or children living on their own. Homelessness has increased by 26 percent in LA since last year. Chicago reported an 11.4 percent increase in the number of homeless families since last year. This survey also reported that 21 percent of people needing emergency food assistance could not get help.
In my city of Phoenix, nonprofit organizations and government are acutely aware of the issues facing the poor. We have St. Vincent De Paul serving over 3,600 meals a day to the homeless and families in need. We have the city helping homeless vets to find places to live off the streets. Two years ago, the city identified 222 chronically homeless veterans, of which more than half served in Vietnam. Our mayor, Greg Stanton announced right before Christmas that the final 56 veterans were placed in housing. This happened because the city council allocated an additional $100,000 in November to accelerate the efforts to help homeless vets.
President Obama's administration has pledged to eliminate homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015, but it looks like time is running short unless cities and states get involved like Phoenix has. The Washington Post talks about the state of Massachusetts and the Department of Veteran Affairs have put aside dollars to hire veterans, some formerly homeless themselves, to help get veterans off the streets in Boston. They spend one day a week roaming the city's storefronts, alleys and shelters seeking out these homeless veterans. The rest of the week is spent making sure those put into housing stay the course.
Now that the holidays are over, we as a society begin to focus back on our own needs in January. Whether it is finding a gym to get back in shape, or a diet to lose the holiday pounds, our attention naturally shifts away from those who need our help 365 days a year. Homelessness is not just the responsibility of our government; it is all of our communal responsibility whether it is in the dead of winter or the heat of summer. Obviously volunteering is the best way to get involved, but if you don't have the gumption of Isaac Simon or the political prowess of Mayor Stanton, then helping out with donated money is a high priority. There are several organizations to support. The National Homeless Coalition, The Salvation Army and The Gospel Rescue Mission all make homelessness their priorities. And at DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away blankets to help those in need, so make sure you nominate a worthy organization.
Maybe what we should all do is what the Lakewood Congregational Church Youth Foundation in northern Ohio does and has been doing for years. On a night in January, they sleep in cardboard boxes outside in the bitter cold and spend the evening seeking donations from community member passing by to help less fortunate families. If that does not wake up the younger generation to the needs of the homeless, then nothing will. Can you imagine if in every city in every state, we all give up the comforts of our homes for one night to experience the immorality of homelessness, what that would do for the psyche of America? I am sure that if we addressed this issue on a grass roots level and all woke up the next morning freezing cold and hungry, our ineffective congress would hear our collective voices saying enough is enough, and Congress would reverse the recent cuts in food stamps, show compassion with the new congressional budget deal and help those who need unemployment benefits. Wouldn't that be a way to start off 2014...