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 needssometimes referred to as heat-or-eat situationsis a way of life for some of societys 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 Universitys Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that more than 14 million U.S. householdsabout one in eightpaid 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, youve 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 arent enough.
Its a very high mountain, says Nic Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies and member of Habitats 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 Humanitys 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, Habitats 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 Habitats 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 transformationone house and one life at a time.