By Steve Walker

Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran, former Justice of the Peace and Journalist

When you think of home- lessness, you might think of indigent men or women panhandling on the streets of San Antonio. It could also be defined as living in housing that is below the minimum standard or lacks security.

Many people are also defined as homeless if they are: living on the streets; moving between temporary shelters, including houses of friends, family and emergency accommodation; living in private boarding houses without a private bathroom and/or security. The legal definition of homeless varies from country to country, or among different jurisdictions in the same country or region. According to the UK “homelessness charity crisis, a home is not just a physical space: it also provides roots, identity, se- curity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing.”

The United States govern- ment homeless definition, also include people who sleep in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. Usually per- sons who are homeless are most often unable to secure adequate housing due to lack of steady income, and the ability to maintain the status quo. Homelessness and poverty are interrelated.

A job loss, family tragedy, or unexpected illness can happen to anyone. Families without a safety net of com- munity support and financial resources are particularly vulnerable when a crisis occurs, and many wind up homelessdoubled up with an- other family, sleep- ing in their car, or staying at an emergency shelter.

This is a very dif- ferent face of homelessness than the stereotype of single adults on the streets. The fact is, families with children are the fastest grow- ing segment of the homeless popula- tion. Many are hard- working parents earning minimum wage. Most have not had the opportunity for an education or vocational training. And sometimes they cannot work because the cost of childcare or transportation is unaffordable.

Obviously there is also a major impact on children. School districts in San An- tonio on the Westside alone have identified large numbers of homeless students as other parts of town have done so. For most of these children, homelessness is not a brief or singular episode but a recurrent experience, fraught with educational and emotional setbacks that can affect them forever.

School transfers are common, and missed school days, poor health and nutrition, plus enrollment numbers change from day to day. With constantly changing schools, classmates, and teachers, these children lack access to a quality education. Yet education is the key to overcome their dire circumstances, escape the poverty cycle, and eventually obtain a job that pays a living wage.

It would seem that major objectives should protect the children’s education by pre- venting the families from having to move from one school to another during the same school year. At the same time, improving the lives of at risk students means improving their parents’ chances for economic success and oblierating homelessness.

On any given day, San Antonio’s homeless population consists of approximately 2,743 individuals. However, nearly 50% of San Antonio’s population is living with no savings, putting them at risk of becoming homeless. Many of the homeless gravitate to the downtown area and the Westside. Having said all that, homelessness needs to be eradicated on the Westside and all of San Antonio.