The Invisible Class: The Story of America’s Homeless Population

Monarch Housing Interns Jillian Lapidus and Mitch Kelly with the Network's Arnold Cohen

Newark Homeless Coalition Joins National Housing Week of Action and Hosts Screening and Panel Discussion

Yesterday, the Public Policy Team at Monarch Housing Associates spent the  morning at The City of Newark Homeless Coalition’s  event.  The Newark Homeless Coalition held this event in conjunction with the National Low Income Housing Coalition‘s National Housing Week of Action.  This event was a great way for Monarch’s interns and staff to prepare for this year’s annual Congressional Reception on July 24 in Washington, D.C.

Sakinah Hoyte, Director at Bridges Outreach in Newark opened and moderated the event.  The event began with a screening of the not yet released documentary, “The Invisible Class,” which was followed by a discussion panel with U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Arnold Cohen, Senior Policy Advisor at the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ (the Network)  and Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC.)  The Network is the NLIHC’s state partner in New Jersey.

The documentary takes place in different cities and regions of America, including Denver, Salt Lake City, Austin, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and Skid Row in Los Angeles. The filmmakers interviewed a variety of people impacted by homelessness.  At the Congressional Reception on July 24, 2019,

New Jersey’s elected officials in Washington will have the opportunity to hear directly from individuals impacted by homelessness.

The documentary examines the three causes of homelessness: housing shortages, income inequality, and the criminalization of homelessness.

Cause #1- Housing Shortage
The film mentions that the U.S. has completely dismissed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to a standard of living as a civic, social economic and cultural right. Homelessness first became a critical issue during The Great Depression and began to decrease in 1984 when homeless shelters started to form. There are now more homeless people in the United States than there were during the Great Depression as a result of decreased federal spending as well as racist and classist lending policies that spanned decades.

Cause #2- Income Inequality
According to the film, the U.S. ranks 64th out of all the countries based on income equality. The U.S. national income equality is in line with Uruguay, Jamaica and Uganda. An affordable, living wage is when housing only costs one third of monthly expenses. In reality, housing expenses cut into most of, if not all, of people’s monthly expenses. Once again, the last time inequality was this high was right before The Great Depression.

Cause #3- Criminalization
The documentary also highlights that ‘quality of life’ policies cause more people to end up behind bars rather than improving lives. For example, it is now illegal to sleep in a vehicle in Los Angeles. Therefore, the law would rather have people sleep outside in hazardous weather and in dangerous, uncomfortable situations rather than with some sort of roof over their head. This is just one of the many detrimental laws severely affecting people impacted by homelessness.

It costs $30,000 to $50,000 to provide for one individual in prison compared to $10,000 to $20,000 to support an individual with housing, mental health services, legal assistance, social activities and therapy. It costs significantly less to help people, rather than punish people.

So what can we do to advocate for homelessness and help make a change? U.S. Rep. Watson Coleman, Arnold Cohen and Diane Yentel shared their insights and expertise on how we can make change.


Diane Yentel said,

NLIHC’s Diane Yentel addresses audience at the event.

“We need to keep talking and we need to keep sharing stories.”

Yentel said that advocates speaking up was the reason for a 10 percent increase in HUD’s funding in the current proposed House budget.  Instead of an increase advocates had expected a 15 percent decrease.

Rep. Watson Coleman appreciates people talking to her and others supporting this movement, but mentions the real change comes from advocating to federal elected officials who do not share the same opinions and ideals. Arnold Cohen mentioned that getting on a bus on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 and attending the Congressional Reception in Washington, D.C. is a great way to do just that.

Come out, make a change and have your voices heard by elected officials. If you are interested in attending the Congressional Reception on July 24th, visit Monarch Housing Associate’s website for more information.