The Scoop on Sustainability: Hurricanes and homelessness

By Amanda Bronson
On November 9, 2012

  • One of the gutsiest things I've ever heard of! Glad it all worked out!. Anonymous #comment 3

Talk about two crazy consecutive Halloween holidays the east coast has experienced. Last year, snow piled up, creating devastating power outages. This year, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc with its powerful winds and massive amounts of rain. Unfortunately, many people, most notably those living in New York and New Jersey, are living without running water or heat; houses have been destroyed, belongings lost and even lives taken. While not to diminish the stress and tragedy of the natural disaster, we as humans sometimes only choose to address issues when they are abrupt, glaring, obvious changes in life as we know it. Because of our near-sightedness in home displacement and livelihood disturbance, society does not realize these same problems affect the young and old, whole families and individuals, war veterans and those mentally ill, everyday and in every location. People experiencing homelessness are not just halfway across the world, but in our own country, including the state of New Hampshire and the communities in which we grew up. 

Although famous disasters such as Irene, Katrina and Sandy are named for destroying the homes of entire populations in a very short time, climate change has also been progressively displacing individuals for years. Why do we always forget about this group, which significantly lacks resources and aid, but consistently channel both human and monetary resources into fast acting natural disaster relief?

Oxfam America is a non-governmental organization working to create lasting solutions to hunger, poverty, and social injustices. Its current focuses include extractive industries and their impact on the people that live on the lands where mining and oil drilling takes place. Such industries have a huge effect on the resources available, those we search for, the land we decimate and, most importantly, the people we displace. The majority of the population rarely looks at someone experiencing homelessness and asks, "How did they get here?" or "What hardships are they working against?"  To be completely honest, the quick responses to these questions generally include a relation to drugs, gambling, laziness or otherwise poor life decisions. For many cases of homelessness, these conclusions are wrong. So let's reevaluate. Let's work backwards, starting with an individual experiencing homelessness, with very few belongings and without a job. How did they get here? The following is only one possibility, one scenario out of several possible causes, but it's a very real one. This individual is where he or she is because the bank took his or her house. The bank took his or her house because he or she couldn't afford to pay for it any longer. Payments were not made because the individual no longer had an income from a steady job. The absence of a job is due to the fact that his or her job mining coal was taken over by a machine and the position was cut.  

People also lose their homes and sources of income if they live on land or farms that sit on valuable resources that powerful companies want to obtain. These companies push small-scale workers from their land with little more than a flick of their finger, because who would listen to such little guys anyway?  In a whirlwind of changes, and minimal say in their future, these people are thrown out with nothing.

Every year, Oxfam UNH holds an event called "Night Without a Home."  The evening is noteworthy; a group of students sleep in cardboard boxes on the Lower Quad, a full 12 hours in the dark and cold of a fall night. Always on a Friday, while many college students hit the bars, and in the middle of November, when the majority of the country is bundled in flannel and fleece, these students volunteer to become unbearably cold. Why? To try to understand. To help achieve tolerance. To realize how lucky they really are to have the privileges their lives give them. Each year, at the meal at the Waysmeet Center preceding the sleep out, the message is conveyed that it is impossible to understand what homelessness is truly like; no one can know without a firsthand experience. The point of the event is to create a foundation for discussion about the issues surrounding homelessness, to try to break away from stigmas and create a compassionate comprehension, particularly in the UNH community. It is beyond incredible how passionate people become, how intensely realization is achieved, after a couple hours in freezing cold temperatures. The option the students have is to go back to the warmth of their dorms and comforts of their beds. True homelessness never gives this option, this safe haven, this alternative.

The greedy search and consumption of natural resources is what creates climate change. We use more per person than our Earth can handle. Therefore, we have an overabundance of pollution, and that creates the climate change. That displaces our people, our peers, and our family members. As people we put disasters upon ourselves. Homelessness is a man-made issue.


Amanda Bronson is a junior Occupational Therapy student and the co-chair of Oxfam UNH. This year, Night Without a Home is Nov. 9. The dinner at Waysmeet is at 6 p.m., speakers begin at 7 p.m., and movement to the Lower Quad begins at 8 p.m.

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