This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The other day Rita Markley, Executive Director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, and Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont penned an article on VTDigger highlighting some of the challenges facing Vermonters living in poverty:
Just last month, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the number of homeless students in public schools reached the highest number on record at 1.1 million children. A week later, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that real median household income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession. Meanwhile, the cost of housing, gas and utilities continues to rise beyond the reach of flat and falling incomes. Not surprisingly, nearly one in four children now live in poverty. And 47 million Americans need SNAP (known as 3SquaresVT or Food Stamps)… Vermont is among the 10 states with the highest increase in homeless students attending K-12 public schools (31 percent). The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) just completed its annual survey for Chittenden County which showed a 19 percent increase since last year. That means 140 children getting ready for school this morning from emergency shelters, overflow motels or doubled up and sleeping in places that are frequently unsafe. Many of these homeless families rely on 3SquaresVT and free school meals to ensure children get proper nutrition. Meals provided by these nutrition programs are a lifeline for many Vermonters who have struggled with job loss, erosion of wages, and home foreclosures. One in six Vermont households receives 3SquaresVT benefits, the majority of whom are families with children. Hunger Free Vermont frequently hears from school staff who see ravenous children on Monday morning who did not eat over the weekend. 3SquaresVT makes a difference in the lives of thousands of Vermonters every day, but in many cases, the benefits are too low to allow them to purchase nutritious food on a consistent basis. These families also suffered a recent reduction in 3SquaresVT benefits due to a cut in recovery act funds lessening a family of four’s benefits by $36 or more. When families are strained to the breaking point by ever increasing rents, when they can’t afford basic necessities like daily meals it impacts everyone in our community. Homeless and hungry children are sick more often, have more behavioral challenges, and struggle more in school. Vermonters have a long and proud history of coming together to support one another in hard times. With hunger at epidemic levels and a significant rise in homeless children in our state it is our responsibility as citizens to insist that our state and federal government take care of our country’s most precious resource, our youth.