By Barbara Grijalva - email
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The face of Tucson homelessness is much worse than the national numbers.
In a good news, bad news sort of way, the federal government says fewer individuals are homeless, but more families are living on the streets.
In Tucson and Pima County, it's all bad news.
According to the 198-page, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (PDF), the number of homeless people on our streets went up 23.9 percent from 2008 to 2009.
Even more dramatic, the number of homeless people in Tucson shelters took a huge leap.
HUD says it went up 77.7% up during the same period.
Not surprisingly, HUD attributes more homeless families to the recession.
But the report isn't the story.
The story is in the faces of the people, especially the children, who, through no fault of their own, are living in this homeless shelter.
Three little girls, ages eight, nine and 10, play in their room at the Salvation Army Hospitality House, a homeless shelter in Tucson.
Their mom, Lori Murphy, says, "I envisioned picket white fence, big house, no problems, now homeless, nor worries. Who would ever know that this would happen."
This is Murphy's life now.
Job loss, home foreclosure.
Murphy and her three daughters are homeless, living temporarily in the Salvation Army Shelter.
"You get a family here that's lost their job. They've lost their home. They're down on their luck. They're depressed. They don't know what to do next," says Salvation Army Family Case Manager Kimberley Graham.
That feeling of being lost. It's scary and hardest on the children.
A few toys the children play with can bring some comfort, but who would ever say it's enough.
Murphy's nine-year-old daughter Keturah Gray has an easy smile and a beautiful laugh.
Keturah says being homeless makes her sad.
Tears run down her cheeks when she thinks about what she wants very much.
"I wish I had a home," she says.
"We try to make it as nice as we can here, to make it more pleasant for them, but it's not their home and they know," says Graham.
Federal and Tucson figures show that more and more families are homeless.
However, most shelters are not geared to families.
Men are separated from women.
A boy over age 10 cannot stay with his mother and sisters in the Salvation Army Hospitality House shelter.
Mothers and daughters stay on their own side of the building.
Graham says, "I've had a family that chose rather to sleep in their car because they didn't want to be split up."
For a single mom like Murphy, summer makes it harder.
No school means no place for her children to be while she works.
A home would change everything.
Her children would have a safe place to stay while she earns a living.
Murphy says, "To be able to pay the rent, and to keep a roof over our heads so we won't have to face this ordeal again."
There are no easy fixes.
Most of us don't have jobs or homes we can offer, but there still are things we can do.
The Salvation Army has begun Operation Chill-Out.
It's collecting water bottles, sun block, visors and hats, and lip balm for people on the streets to get a little protection during the hot summer months.
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