Houston’s Working Class Gets Bumped into Homelessness and Poverty by the Crashing Economy
Mike Giglio from the Houston Press reports on how the economy is affecting the working class, and how has led to an increase in homelessness in the city of Houston.
The full force of the recession is finally hitting Houston. It could lose 44,000 jobs in 2009, according to a recent report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 101.8 percent last year, including 18.4 percent in December alone. The year-end unemployment rate increased by a quarter, to 5.5 percent. “Houston’s economy is now locked into the national economy,” says Klineberg. The city, he adds, will at last join the rest of the country in its “day of reckoning for living beyond our means.”
For many Houstonians, that means foreclosure and eviction, and a growing number of people and families are suddenly facing homelessness. Houston is not ready to help. Its underfunded and outdated homeless system is already stretched thin by a population 10,000 strong, which gets help to subsist in homelessness but not overcome it — or avoid it in the first place. Briggitte Stevenson, the chief case manager at Star of Hope, calls it a “full circus,” something previously stable, working people — especially families — will be hard-pressed to navigate on their own.
Aid agencies across the city are reporting big spikes in demand. Northwest Assistance Ministries, a network of more than 45 congregations with a combined annual budget of nearly $10 million, saw a 10 percent rise in requests for its family shelter program from 2007 to 2008, along with a 25 percent increase in applications for help paying the rent, mortgage or utilities. Catholic Charities reopened from hurricane damage in January to an almost 20 percent increase in rent assistance requests. At the United Way of Greater Houston’s 211 referral hotline, the number of calls increased in January and February — by 105 percent for food, 51 percent for utility assistance, 35 percent for rent and mortgage assistance, and 42 percent for shelter — compared with a year ago.
New faces have been showing up at food pantries as well.
“Our agencies as a whole, whoever they serve, have been reporting that they see people they would never expect to see,” says Betsy Ballard of the Houston Food Bank, the main hub for the city’s pantries. “Folks are coming in who previously did not need help.”