Over 1,600 men, women and children died in residential fires during 2010. Most deaths receive a mere blurb in the local paper.
Poverty in America bloggers Rich and Elizabeth Lombino called attention to the ongoing post-Katrina humanitarian disaster in New Orleans, tragically underscored by the recent fiery deaths of 8 homeless youth trying to stay warm in an abandoned building. I've hammered on the 9 lives lost in Starkville, MS attributed to "hard times," the 3 women and 6 little kids crowded together in an apartment to avoid life on the shelter-less streets. For all our hammering and yammering, few will pay attention to this poverty-related loss of life.
If you have the stomach to look at the US Fire Marshal's fire fatality report, you'll notice a pattern: lots of fires in manufactured homes. Trailers. As one who lives in a trailer, an Recreational (ha!) Vehicle, I am frighteningly aware of their vulnerability, and I'm not coping with abject poverty and the multitude of issues accompanying life in the much-maligned trailer parks.
Fire is one issue. Legal and illegal evictions are others. Hopewell, VA is the scene of a massive trailer park eviction leaving residents with few options besides homelessness. The substandard condition of these tin can homes is yet another story. Trailer residents struggling with poverty can't afford upkeep, much less home heating oil.
We've long given up on the idea people in this country are entitled to a decent, affordable place to live. We let people struggle to survive in substandard conditions--crappy trailers, abandoned buildings, tents, the great outdoors. We stereotype and disparage "street people" and ignore the house-less reality of human beings --including homeless families with young children--as told by 3 parents in a Christmas day NPR story.
If a 1,600 passenger plane crashed, I'd like to think we'd pay attention for a short time anyhow. Is it the lack of value we put on some people's lives?
When possible unsafe conditions led to deaths of 32 infants since 2000, we recall cribs. That's the right thing to do. I'd suspect not many wealthy families live in trailers or abandoned buildings. So we (as a nation) don't give a rat's ass about those who die trying to keep warm because they're not wealthy. Congress won't get involved. We have too many other "priorities."
Home heating prices are soaring. Rents skyrocketing. Evictions and foreclosures spiraling. Fire and carbon monoxide fatalities surging. (I'm running out of verbs before I'm running out of reasons that people are losing housing.)
While Congress is poised to slash programs serving those most vulnerable in our country, most of us feel powerless. One way to have a slight, though important, impact on poverty policies is to rattle the cage of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the body that issues an annual "report" on homelessness. I've decried this document as a bogus waste of time and money. It bamboozles the mayors, media, and mainstream public by distorting homelessness statistics. It's inaccurate, but since media look for a homelessness story around the holidays, this drivel fills the gap. Even the astute Maria Foscarinas of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty got pulled into seeming to validate the report.
Will you sign my petition to urge mayors to either strengthen their reporting or skip it?
Seems to me that our national strategy of ignoring poverty hasn't worked. Maybe it's time we all sit around the campfire outside the U.S. Capitol and roast marshmallows over campfires fueled by burning bogus reports.