A family having "hard times" (translation, homeless because they lost their housing due to hardship) in Starkville, MS was taken in by a mother who understood what "hard times" does to a family, as she was not far from that pernicious condition. On Monday, Dec. 28, in Starkville, a fire rooted in poverty and overcrowded living space took their lives, 3 women and 6 small children.
Having known "hard times," India Williams, the 25-year-old mother of 3 small children, squeezed the other 2 women and 3 children into her humble apartment because they needed a place to stay. I'm not sure of the exact circumstances, but having seen this tragic story unfold countless times, I would guess that a domestic disturbance, money problems, and/or neighborhood violence caused the loss of housing.
The fire that took their lives, sadly, is not unlike a mostly unnoticed nationwide house fire epidemic (certainly getting less attention than H1N1), as winter's wrath has frozen even Florida. The Red Cross reports a 200% increase in house fires in this country, and utility shut-offs cause a good number of those fires as impoverished and desperately cold households turn to unsafe methods to stay warm. (Does your Red Cross do more than put house fire survivors in a motel for just a few days? Enlighten me.)
I've noticed an interesting, and revealing, phenomenon when it comes to news stories about these tragedies. "Hard times" is a common term. The Tulsa World just ran a story with the headline "Tough Times" that described poverty among families in the OK state. The Denver Post just ran a superb feature on CO childhood poverty, people "trying to get by."
"Hard times," "tough times," "trying to get by," are euphemisms for abject poverty and homelessness. I want to call it what it is so thick-headed legislators and policymakers get a clue. Poverty causes a dreadful ripple effect through all communities. It costs more to maintain poverty than it does to holistically address it.
So HEAR US is launching a campaign, "Up the Food Chain," to challenge mayors to look at hard times for what it is--poverty. We're setting up a simple way for people to petition mayors to go up the "food chain" to urge legislators on state and national levels to seriously address poverty. We're targeting communities where poverty-related house fires occur, hoping to in some small way make sense out of these tragedies.
Why mayors? Well, the US Conference of Mayors is an influential body, and they have ties--formal and not--to other politicians. Petitions get mayors' attention, as demonstrated with the successful campaign HEAR US launched in Grand Junction, CO that improved daytime options for homeless families otherwise left out in the cold.
Seems to me that it's time to put significant energy--or at least a few keyboard clicks--into something worthwhile, reducing hard times, before we all get to know first-hand what it means to experience hard times. I urge you to join our effort, share this campaign, and do what you can in your community to make lives of homeless children, families living in poverty, and those having hard times just a little easier. We'll all be better for it.