Barrett: Thanksgiving without a home

 

 

Tom Barrett

One week from today, the majority of us at Villanova will be sitting down to join our parents, grandparents, siblings and maybe even our aunts and uncles for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast.

We’ll sit at our tables, taking in the warm aroma of the gravy and the mashed potatoes and praying that grace will end quickly so we can dig into the 20 pounds of stuffed bird.

We’ll butter our biscuits with the shiniest silverware we have, and we’ll shovel some kind of casserole onto the finest china, not really knowing exactly what it is.

Oh, and how could anyone forget dessert? After we finish engulfing as much pie and cake as we can physically squeeze in our bodies, we’ll find a couch or a bed and go comatose for a few hours.

And all of this is made possible by one elementary fact, by one thing that most of us have taken for granted our entire lives: we have a home to live in.

For most of us, such a feast has occurred every year on the fourth Thursday of November, but try to picture having Thanksgiving dinner without having a home, without having a table and chairs to sit down and eat at, without a couch to go pass out on afterward. It just wouldn’t be the same.

According to research done by the Urban Institute, many Americans will spend their holiday this way; there are 800,000 citizens that are homeless on any given day, and this includes 200,000 children in families. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that some 600,000 families and roughly 1.35 million children will experience homelessness at any given point throughout the year.

Now, this does not just refer to the people dwelling on the streets of Philadelphia begging for change. People are homeless everywhere across the country in rural, urban and suburban areas, and these people are forced to sleep anywhere they can – in shelters, cars, abandoned buildings, motels, etc.

The official definition of “homeless” also does not apply to people who are doubled up. Doubled up means that people share a house with extended family members, with friends or with other families, and according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) 3.8 million people are doubled up for economic reasons.

If the definition of homeless were expanded to include this group the number of homeless individuals in this country would increase dramatically.

So why are so many people homeless in our country? According to research conducted by the Urban Institute in 2001, the primary causes of homelessness are a lack of affordable housing and the fact that these people’s incomes simply aren’t high enough to afford the houses available. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 12 million people in the country pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, and a full-time worker earning minimum wage officially cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

There are options available to these individuals such as the Section 8 voucher program, but these HUD programs do not meet the needs of nearly enough individuals.

Few in the United States would disagree that having a house to call your home is part of the American dream and something that every hard-working citizen should have a right to, but this is not the case.

Thanksgiving is supposed be the time of year that we celebrate and express our gratitude for all we’ve been blessed with, but far too many American families may not have that opportunity this year, and that is unacceptable.

So next week, when we gather with our families in our homes or their homes, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens across the country who do not have the same liberty.

Instead of hollowly and hastily voicing our thanks aloud, why don’t we demonstrate our gratitude for everything we’ve been blessed with by acknowledging the need and vulnerability of our fellow Americans across this country?

There is so much that we can do to be part of the solution, ranging from volunteering our time at a soup kitchen to making a 45-second phone call to our senators and representatives asking them to support increases in programs like Section 8 (www.naeh.org has some good suggestions as well).

So this year, let’s acknowledge the fact that our lives could have turned out much differently.

Let’s take action, large or small, and let’s show that we truly are thankful.

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Tom Barrett is a junior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]