March 24, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 24 March

As I scan the headlines from the past week, two issues jump out at me: homelessness, and the growing awareness of problems in the global food system.

Homelessness, we learn in a fairly stark report issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness, is on the increase nationwide, especially among families and children. Being homeless has detrimental effects on those whom it effects, especially children: health problems, emotional difficulties, and decreased lifetime incomes are only the tip of the iceberg. Personal stories put a human face on the issue, whether in Binghamton NY or in the tent city near Sacramento CA (which is scheduled to be closed, with some -- but nowhere near all -- of the residents moved to more sanitary facilities). Some money from the federal stimulus package may help to meet the most immediate needs, but the emergency shelter system is clearly under stress.

At the same time, global retail food prices seem to be remaining much higher than the world market prices of the food commodities themselves. This may be just the latest chapter in the problems of a global food system that persistently engages in unsustainable production -- the kind of disfunction that may, just may, be promoting a "food revolution" that leads to more sustainable agricultural practices. Even the White House is getting into the act, with its organic vegetable garden. Will we see the complete re-making of declining cities like Detroit to resemble a concept like "Farmadelphia," with food grown in abandoned lots in the inner city itself?

Economic distress remains widespread: students graduating from college this Spring, people being laid off as their workplaces face budget cuts, or those affected by increasing foreclosure rates or other shifts in employment patterns. What can you do? If you live in DC, you can participate in World Water Week this week and help give children clean water to drink. Or think about the neighborhoods through which you pass on the way to and from work, and consider getting involved there for an hour or two a week. Every little bit helps.

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