(BPT) - Food, water, shelter - all basic human needs. But for millions of Americans, having a secure place to call home is financially out of reach, even if they work full-time. From veteran to teacher to single mom, public housing helps 2.2 million people throughout the country, with half a million more on waiting lists.
Despite providing a critical resource to communities, there's still a negative stigma associated with public housing. While the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that all U.S. citizens deserve a decent and safe place to live - 83 percent according to a recent ReThink Survey: 'Perceptions of Public Housing 2013' - more than half (52 percent) would not want to live near a public housing unit themselves.
Public housing programs not only help people who have fallen on hard times, but provide assistance for people with limited income, such as seniors or those who work in industries that typically pay less, such as the hospitality industry. By serving a variety of hard-working people and others who don't necessarily control their circumstances, public housing can help build stronger families and communities.
Who benefits from public housing services? The answer may surprise you. Forty-one percent of people served by public housing are children and more than half are seniors or disabled individuals. With close to 50 percent of Americans living at or below the poverty line, it's likely you know someone who benefits from public housing though you may not be aware of it.
'Public housing is a great investment,' says Ray Mariano, former city mayor and current executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority in Worcester, Mass. Mariano himself grew up living in public housing and recognizes the foundation it provided his family and the role it played in helping him create a successful future.
'Every time you take a family who is homeless, or near homeless, and give them housing to try to help improve their lives, get an education and get a job, that's someone who is going to leave public housing and that's someone who is going to be paying taxes to support other people in need,' says Mariano. 'It's a great investment because it doesn't just help the family, it helps every single person in the community. And it all starts with housing.'
ReThink is a new initiative challenging the sometimes negative perceptions that Americans have about public housing by sharing stories of success made possible through public housing. Visit www.rethinkhousing.org to watch and read the stories of how these programs are making a difference, and learn important facts that support the urgent need for increased federal funding.
For example, Ed Washington, a disabled and elderly case worker from Houston, Texas, was born with a debilitating disease and wasn't expected to live past age five. Today, at age 54, he benefits from public housing, and has a job helping others get the housing assistance they need as well.
Talking about his apartment, Washington explains, 'Living here allows me to have a good, healthy quality of life. I have everything that I need to be independent. In my apartment, I'm just like you. This is a godsend to be able to live here with dignity.'
Washington works to help the elderly find better living arrangements and therefore a better quality of life through public housing. 'Without low income housing, my elderly residents would die. There is a need out there. We've got veterans, your mom, your older brother, or uncle or dad, who may not have the means to live well,' he says.
The bottom line is public housing can provide a stepping stone for residents, young and old. They gain a stable and supportive community for themselves and their families, opportunities for education and career training, and ultimately, the opportunity for financial self-sufficiency to succeed outside of public housing. Learn more at www.rethinkhousing.org.