In a couple of weeks, President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into the White House for the second time, forever emblazoning a mark for blacks on American history. More importantly, as his second term begins, his to-do list will be heavily scrutinized by the public as many begin to envision what change will come to pass in the next four years.

Let’s hope that reducing homelessness is on that list. Prioritized next to “getting Congress to actually do their job” and “reducing the incessant National Debt.” Because no one should honestly have to be forced to live on the street. Absolutely no one.

Allowing homelessness to persist in America only serves to create greater societal woes. People that are homeless often spend more time in jail or prison because of laws and ordinances that prohibit loitering, panhandling, and sleeping under bridges or in cars. This flow to penitentiary systems only creates a hefty cost to cities and states. In addition, some of the homeless that suffer from psychological disorders end up being routinely hospitalized, creating extra expenses for local municipalities and taxpayers.

It’s easy to crucify the homeless as lesser beings or ruthless individuals. They are often stigmatized in public, relegated as “lazy bums” for begging on streets or in transportation hubs. The homeless, however, are more diverse than we may think. On any given night in the United States, nearly 633,782 people experience homelessness. And they are not just putrid-smelling old men with loose mental screws. Many of the individuals who became homeless are new to the streetscape; several are people like you and me who lost their jobs during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. Many are people like me and you, who encumbered by the weight of mounting medical bills found themselves unable to pay for adequate medical care and found themselves sick on the street. Some of them have disabilities and have been left to be neglected by greater society.

These people are like me and you. Regular folk who fell off the bandwagon due to the stressors of life. They are people who need help. Just like the rest of us.

The government does understand that change in this arena must come — this is why the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has pledged to end homeless by 2020. Homelessness has fallen by 17 percent since 2009, and local governments have worked hard to help improve the housing situations for veterans. At the pace we’re moving, however, homelessness may become a more chronic issue than we may be willing to realize. The latest annual report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development describes a steady rate of individuals who are homeless in America — pinpointing the fact that our desire to get people off the streets may not be effective enough:

“[The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness] have set ambitious goals for themselves, but I don’t think those are goals that aren’t doable,” Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness said. “But not at the rate that we’re going.”

Many may believe that ending homelessness is an impossible task, however, I beg to differ. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would cost $20 billion to end homelessness in America. This may sound like a lot but it’s nothing when we consider the billions of dollars we spend each year on Christmas decorations or taxpayer subsidies given to oil companies.

More importantly, it will take the pressure of the public on Congress to make change happen for those that are less fortunate. According to Mark Johnston, the acting assistant housing secretary for community planning and development, a ten-fold increase in HUD’s $1.9 billion budget is crucial to getting the government to take speed on the issue. The real question is do we even care? Should we care about those struggling before our very eyes?

It is our civic duty as Americans to help those in need. This ideal is embedded in our democratic society, contrary to what some may see as a socialist push for equal living. Each week, funds for Social Security and Medicare programs are deducted from our paychecks. Our taxes continue to be funneled towards institutional programs such as schools and government programs. Knowing this, it is important that we fight the war on unemployment and homelessness valiantly and that we call for Congress to pay more attention to the housing crisis in this country. The fact that there are young children and women who can barely find space in emergency shelters to get off the streets is a fact that should alarm us. We must be vocal in our communities in order to call for action from our local and state political leaders. Truthfully, the time to speak up for change was yesterday. Our ability to start change can happen now.

This is not Congress’s fight alone. It’s all of ours. Because at any given moment, companies can downsize, jobs can be eliminated, and we too, with our endless luxuries, can end up destitute, clanking our own empty cans for change down the rickety path of Main Street.

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