Living wage can reduce homelessness

By | November 3, 2010

The advocates, demonstrating collaboration from area human service providers, school districts, Brown County government services and JOSHUA have organized under the umbrella, Supporting Our Families Together (SOFT). The short-term goal is simple: raise $70,000 to help ensure that families with children in greater Green Bay, when the Crisis Center has determined that all emergency shelter options are unavailable, receive hotel vouchers and case management until their housing situation can be stabilized. The budget should provide emergency shelter and case management until June 30, 2011.

Contributions from individuals, churches and other groups are encouraged. Checks may be made payable to Freedom House Ministries (put Supporting Our Families Together in the memo line) and mail to Freedom House Ministries, 2997 St. Anthony Dr., Green Bay, WI, 54311.

SOFT leadership is also looking at longer term funding opportunities, but such grant opportunities are not available during this crisis period. At the meeting on Oct. 22, I also reminded attendees that we must consider structural issues related to the problem. For example, if a family has a member working full-time, why are some wages in our local community unable to provide for adequate housing? According to the Living Wage Calculator, produced by Pennsylvania State University, a living wage in Brown County for a family of one adult and one child is $17.05 per hour; minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. For a family of two adults and two children, living wage is $28.91 per hour, poverty wage is $9.83 per hour, and minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour.

But universal living wage is not only the cause de jure of human service providers, community organizers and academicians. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#250) states, “In order to protect this relationship between family and work, an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently. Such a wage must allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom. …”

Furthermore, Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in his 2010 Labor Day Message, “In too many places across America, workers are not being fully paid for their labor. … The dignity of the person is diminished when poor or middle-class people are denied their full wage or just compensation for their hard work. A good job at good wages for everyone who is willing and able to work should be our national goal and a moral priority….”

Many U.S. communities have passed living wage ordinances, including Santa Fe, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Maryland. What is preventing our local communities from working toward such ordinances? Local elections, scheduled for April 5, 2011, are just around the corner.

Norbertine Br. Steve Herro is director of social concerns for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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