Christmas decorations line our streets and holiday tunes blare over the radio. The stores are filled with shoppers looking for that ideal gift to put under the tree, or fill a stocking.
Meanwhile, a growing segment of the local population, particularly women and children, just want a place to live.
Pattie McGurk of Catholic Social Services told the Barton County Commission Monday morning that the number of those struggling to stay in their homes is swelling, as is the number of folks who are living in cars or shelters.
Homelessness is a serious issue, she said. Although her agency received a $188,000 federal grant. That will likely only be enough to help 14 families in CSS’s southwest Kansas coverage area.
That is a drop in the bucket. Between October 2011 and March 2012, CSS worked with 22 families on the verge of eviction.
Why? “Rent is much higher than the wages,” she said.
The average rent for a two-bedroom home in Barton County is $520 per month. If a person were to only spend 30 percent of their income on housing, that would mean they would have to earn at least $10.32 per hour.
But, many service industry jobs don’t pay that much. Even if they do, there are often no time-off benefits, so an employee can’t afford to stay home with a sick family member or miss work.
What is the answer? Unknown.
Wages in the Golden Belt have always lagged behind those elsewhere. But, up until the past few years, the cost of living was low enough to help even things out some. That has changed.
Screaming for higher pay, lower taxes or cheaper housing won’t help. True, these may be the long-term solutions we must work towards, but these won’t help much right now.
Besides, there is very little the average citizen can do to put a dent in these problems. However, we can do our part.
Catholic Social Services offers a “non-food pantry” that provides the necessities of life to the needy, as well as funds through this new grant. The Barton County Food Bank offers sustenance. The Ministerial Alliance is also around to offer a helping hand.
The rest of us can make contributions to these organizations so they can fulfill their missions. In the spirit of the holidays, it is the least we can do.
Why? I would likely stun most of us to know how many of our neighbors are just one paycheck away from being homeless.