Opinion: Why we should stop denying homelessness in Auburn/Opelika

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By Julie Spear

I know what a lot of people reading this are thinking: “we don’t have a homelessness problem in our area”. I’m writing to inform you that we do, and to educate our residents on the truths about homelessness. We believe in Auburn and love it, so we have to believe in our ability to serve ANY one in Auburn. Have you ever heard the term “a team is only as good as it’s weakest member”? That one family that sleeps in their car in the Wal-Mart parking lot every night represents our city just as much as the President of our University does. Do you know where individuals whom are homeless in our area sleep? They sleep in abandoned buildings, cars in parking lots, in and out of cheap, unsanitary hotels and under bridges. Have you seen them in these locations?  If so, this would be a good time to mention that. I have met people coming through local help resources that tell me they sleep in their cars at night.
Let’s get some facts straight about why people become homeless. No, it’s not just individuals who do not want to work. Homeless individuals are people such as youth who age out of the foster care system, single mothers or fathers who lost a spouse that are now living off of one income, elderly who barely receive enough per month to live, or even individuals with a disability. You may be thinking, “what about all that government assistance” and “why can’t they just get a job and use their money the way they are supposed to” (both questions I hear frequently). The truth lies in these statistics: according to livingwage.mit.edu, the wage needed to live, not be comfortable, is $10.17 per/hour for one adult. Minimum wage in Alabama is still $7.25 per/hour. So no, you cannot expect that the mother, father, older adult, young adult or teen taking your order at a fast food restaurant is making even close to enough to find a bed that night. Our system in Alabama is designed to keep individuals whom are homeless where they are. By the way, two highly talked about government assistance funds: food stamps and TANF are also not enough to feed and help families in need. TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, the average monthly assistance through food stamps (SNAP) in Alabama is only about $125.73 per person. I am what is considered a poor college student and that is barely enough to help me through the month. I want to also be clear that programs such as TANF have strict requirements. TANF is time limited – only allowed for 48 months. According to TANF.us, you must work or take part in work activity for 30 hours per week. That means recipients MUST attend school, work or look for jobs actively for 30 hours per week. This is not free money.
To wrap this up, I suggest a solution to help homeless individuals in the Auburn/Opelika area. The city governments have both denied the production of a homeless shelter in our local cities. I want to advocate for city funding to be used to build and maintain a homeless shelter in the Auburn/Opelika area. Let us provide care for people in need of our love, rather than ignore the problems they face.
Julie Spear is a concerned Auburn citizen who has a passion to bring awareness of the reality of homelessness in the area.

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