Especially during brutally cold months, households struggling to survive often take in homeless family or friends, those "having hard times," to keep people from freezing on the streets.
A family having "hard times" (translation: homeless due to hardship) in Starkville, Mississippi was recently taken into the small apartment of India Williams, a 25-year-old mother of three who understood what "hard times" do to a family. Williams paid dearly for her kindness. On Monday, Dec. 28, in Starkville, a fire in that overcrowded apartment killed three women and six small children.
They are just some of the victims of a nationwide house fire epidemic. The Red Cross reports a 200% increase in house fires, a combination of freezing temperatures and dire economic times.
Tragically, overcrowding, inability to pay for heat/electricity, and other factors increase the risk of house fires. Almost every day, more desperately cold households are turning to unsafe methods to stay warm following utility shut-offs. Houses burn and people die or are displaced after losing everything.
We need government officials and the public to recognize these tragedies for what they are: symbols of poverty, homelessness, and the need for a safety net to ease desperate attempts to escape the cold.
We call on the mayor of Starkville to:
> Increase local emergency resources for families, teens and individuals who have lost housing.
> Expand resources to ensure households have safe methods to stay warm.
> Develop public safety campaigns about home heating and distribute information to places frequented by low-income families.
> Recognize that "having hard times" often equals "homelessness" and increase efforts to develop housing options for people without a safe, affordable place to live.
Sadly, increased poverty and homelessness seems to be at the root of many of these horrible incidents. Friends and families take in others who are "having hard times," another way of saying they lost housing due to hardship: divorce, job loss, eviction, etc. Families on the edge of homelessness frequently extend hospitality to people going through "hard times," often at great sacrifice.
As leader of your community, we would like to ask that you make sense of this tragedy. Homelessness, a symptom of poverty, needs more resources from the city and state levels. Your citizens deserve a safe place to call home, and resources if they cannot afford to safely heat their houses.
I hope this tragedy can serve as a catalyst to improve the safety net for all. Thank you for your service to your community.