The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | February / March 2002
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Fighting Poverty
A World View
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A Regional View
Homeowner Determination Yields Renewed Hope

Habitat in Appalachia:
A Proven Solution
What You Can Do


Poverty Persists
Despite Nation's Wealth
Competing priorities make tough choices part of daily life.


By any measure, the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And yet, despite the general prosperity that keeps most Americans well-fed, comfortably housed and reasonably empowered, millions of people in the United States struggle to adequately house their children, feed them nutritious meals and keep them warm at night.

Lacking the resources to meet basic needs–sometimes referred to as “heat-or-eat” situations–is a way of life for some of society’s most vulnerable members. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 12 million children live in families with incomes under the federal poverty line, and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that more than 14 million U.S. households—about one in eight—paid more than 50 percent of their income for housing in 1999. “If you have a scale of the most horrible situation to the most desirable, having no place to live at all is at the bottom,” says Sheila Crowley, executive director of the National Coalition for Low Income Housing. “Next are the people who are barely hanging on and making impossible decisions about how to use their money. When you take all that together, you’ve probably got somewhere around 6 million households in the United States.”

With such a significant portion of the population affected, most Americans probably see “poor” people every day and simply do not realize it. For example, a single mother attempting to support herself and a child with a full-time minimum-wage job is unable to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent prices without spending more than 30 percent of her income. This situation holds true anywhere in the country, and in most states, even two full-time minimum-wage jobs aren’t enough.

“It’s a very high mountain,” says Nic Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies and member of Habitat’s international board of directors. “I have no false expectations that in a matter of days or weeks or months or years we will be able to scale the mountain. But when I think of Habitat, I think of the famous quote from Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ I guess the notion of thoughtful, committed people who have a sense of community is a positive, propelling motivation for me.”

What began as a small group of thoughtful, committed people dreaming big dreams 25 years ago in a barn in southwest Georgia has grown.

In the years since its founding, Habitat for Humanity’s efforts have changed the lives of more than 120,000 families throughout the world. With more than 1,600 affiliates and 650 campus chapters in the United States, Habitat’s reach continues to expand into more communities. Northwest Indiana HFH dedicated the United States’ 40,000th Habitat house last September, and while that number is small compared with the need, it still represents a decisive step forward for the hundreds of thousands of homeowners and volunteers who are not willing to accept unaffordable, substandard housing as a part of their lives.

Retsinas recalls a Habitat moment that demonstrates the impact of Habitat’s work on individuals. While on a business trip in South Texas, he was able to participate in a house dedication for a new Habitat house. When he noticed that the mother of the family was crying, he was touched that a simple, modest house could trigger such strong emotion. He was even more touched to learn that her tears were not only of joy; she had lived in a shack her whole life, and it embarrassed her for the crowd to see that she had no furniture to fill up what she thought was a large new house.

“It was transformational in terms of her life,” Retsinas says.

Despite the obstacles, Habitat continues this process of transformation–one house and one life at a time.



1. Pray.
• Pray for the safety of Habitat staff, volunteers and homeowners in areas of civil instability.
• Pray that funds will be available to build to the organization’s capacity.


2. Build.
• Volunteer with your local affiliate. To find out which affiliate is closest to you, visit www.habitat.org/local.
• Support the ministry financially by donating online (/cd/giving/donate.aspx) or by donating to your local affiliate.
• Participate on a Global Village work team. For more information, visit www.habitat.org/gv/.


3. Teach.
• Raise awareness of housing issues in your area by talking about them in your church, by writing letters to your local newspaper and by sharing your concerns with elected representatives.
• Check for new reports from organizations such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition (www.nlihc.org), Housing Assistance Council (www.ruralhome.org) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov).
• Encourage schools to teach students about the importance of volunteering.

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