I think our collective image of the homeless is shaped by two major factors--the people we see on the street corners begging for change, perhaps disabled, holding a sign, dirty, and the ones portrayed on television shows, which in most cases reinforces the first image. Once in a while, a television show or a movie will remind us that some of these homeless are returned military veterans who are suffering from PTSD and/or substance abuse and can't get treatment, or that some of them are the working poor, people who are holding down a job, maybe two, and just can't make ends meet.

This article in the Sun-Sentinel focuses on that last group, and introduces us to a sub-set who have been caught in the swirling toilet that is our local housing market.

But advocates said they are seeing, for the first time, people in trouble even though they've been paying rent on time and holding jobs. That's because some landlords continue collecting rent without paying the mortgage, leading to foreclosure.

The families find out only when banks evict them. Two families joined Broward's waiting list this week after that happened to them, homeless advocates said.

Even if the renters get their deposits back, they still need to come up with the $3,000 to $4,000 required to get into a new place.
And this, I am afraid, is going to become more common, not less, as the real estate market continues to shake out. Fewer and fewer people have the safety nets of old--extended family, for instance--that can lend money or offer temporary shelter when unexpected circumstances hit. And local shelters are already being overwhelmed.
More than 100 homeless families in Broward County, many with at least one parent working full time, are on a waiting list for emergency housing. An equal number are in various shelters or transitional homes, trying to save the cash for first and last month's rent plus security deposit in an expensive housing market.

Just a few years ago, the waiting list rarely had more than a handful of families.
And for every one of those families, there's at least one more that's teetering on the edge, hoping the car won't break down, praying a kid won't get sick, wondering if the rent they've been paying actually means something.

There's been some talk about federal intervention in the housing market, especially when it comes to mortgages. That would probably help people on the brink, if it comes in time. But I'd like to see some incentive offered to banks that are foreclosing on rental properties to allow the people living there some time, possibly rent-free, so they can use the money they would normally spend on rent to save for deposits for another place, while also allowing the tenants to go after the landlord for their deposits.

This isn't a new thing. Homeless working poor have been around for a long time, and will continue to be with us as long as we place our national economic priorities where we've had them for most of our existence. But one thing is for certain. We're headed in the wrong direction right now.

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