Homeless victims of crisis,often sudden, prof

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    MELISSA MURCHISO

    Although the situations that contribute to homelessness differ from individual to individual, many people feel vulnerable to their causes, said Mike Seipel, associate professor of social work.

    “Many are living at risk–from paycheck to paycheck,” Seipel said.

    Seipel said some people do not know if their jobs will last. Because of unexpected health problems, people lose their jobs, and their paycheck.

    Besides losing a paycheck, pension plans and health insurance coverage are usually terminated as well, said Seipel. Suddenly, some unemployed have a huge financial obligation and find themselves without a home and without shelter.

    Some who find themselves homeless, Seipel said, are vulnerable to social isolation and have weak ties with family and friends. They may have come from an environment of domestic or child abuse or may have been forced to leave their home at a young age.

    Some homeless people lack a social network and a network with their community. This may be due to sexism and/or discrimination of some type, Seipel said.

    “We have low opinions of those who don’t share our lifestyle,” Seipel said. “Many are not welcomed in our community.”

    In addition, Seipel said that poor physical and poor mental health contribute to increased homelessness. Many situations that are beyond control such as natural disasters and lost jobs also create a homeless population.

    Myla Dutton, director of Community Action Services, said the most significant contributor to homelessness is those who have to live paycheck to paycheck and then experience a financial crisis such as health or medical problem.

    Dutton said the major wage earner may become injured off the job or may become ill. He or she does not receive health benefits or worker’s compensation. In a situation like this, paying for rent is not possible.

    Sometimes with new property ownership or at the end of a rental lease, rent increases, said Dutton, and many can not afford the increase. Community Action Services works with people in such situations by providing low-cost hotel rooms, temporary rental assistance, job service information, clothing, outreach programs and case management to prepare for long term security.

    Dutton said she estimates that just under 2,000 families are living with either family or friends. Many of these families will have to leave their current residence to find a place of their own. Because of increased housing costs and lower wages, Dutton said, many of these families may end up homeless.

    With over 300,000 residents in Utah County, 40,000 are at poverty level with an annual income of $15,000 or less, said Dutton. And most of the people at poverty level are families with two parents.

    For three months last spring, Dutton said Community Action Services helped 367 families. Of the adults in those households, 65 had high school diplomas and 22 had a college degree or some college education.

    But homelessness is more than just a problem unique to the homeless. It is a societal problem and we are all contributors, Seipel said. There are not enough jobs and many of the available jobs do not pay minimum wage. He said housing is too expensive and many have to use 80 to 90 percent of their income on housing alone.

    After conducting personal research of his own and having served as board president for the Food and Care Coalition for eight years, Seipel said there are many things we can do as a society to remedy the homeless situation.

    Seipel said our society should take a more active role in creating public policy and influencing legislatures to create more jobs, to pay workers a living wage not a minimum wage, to decrease taxes, to improve health coverage and to develop a compassionate attitude rather than a blaming attitude.

    “Some [homeless] are victimized at no fault of their own. We should help them overcome their limitations,” Seipel said. We don’t see ourselves as a community; in order to attain long term prosperity we must include all members.

    “To build a Zion society, we must include all–everyone has to be involved,” Seipel said.

    Although the quality of life has improved significantly and America has experienced prosperity, homelessness is still increasing.

    As individuals, Seipel said we can volunteer our time and talents, become more service oriented, share knowledge and information with legislatures, join mentor programs and provide free professional services.

    “We have the power to make a difference,” Seipel said.

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