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.