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In communities around the world, individuals are responding with support for the Japanese people. In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, thousands of Japanese citizens are dead or missing and tens of thousands lack food, shelter and water. Ongoing concerns with nuclear power plants and the release of radiation are adding to the devastation. Our human interconnectedness makes this tragedy hit close to home.

Donate to the Central Community Chest of Japan>>>

The Central Community Chest of Japan, part of the United Way worldwide network, is actively working to meet the immediate needs of the people of Japan and those affected by the disaster through direct relief and recovery efforts. The Central Community Chest of Japan coordinates the Japanese Council for Disaster Relief Project for Volunteers in collaboration with a coalition of Japanese nonprofit organizations. The Central Community Chest of Japan is also working closely with the government, local businesses and other NGOs on the ground response.

Donate to the Central Community Chest of Japan>>>

The Central Community Chest of Japan has promoted national welfare throughout the country for more than 60 years. Central Community Chest of Japan is a national organization with a vast network of local members. There are 47 Prefectural Community Chests, one located in each Prefecture, and there are 2,217 district offices and branch offices located in municipalities throughout the country.


By Corey Dade, from NPR
September 30, 2010

As they struggle to cope with a chronically weak economy that’s falling well short of replacing the 8.5 million jobs lost since 2007, a rapidly growing number of American adults are moving in with relatives in the hope of avoiding financial ruin.

These aren’t just 20-somethings back living with Mom and Dad.

Many are experienced, once-successful professionals, entrepreneurs and others — like Sherry Shaffer and her husband, owners of a failed real estate business in Memphis who vacated their six-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home in Tennessee for her brother-in-law’s attic in Pittsburgh.

Alex Vila-Roger and Sherry Shaffer in Pittsburgh, where they now live in the attic of in-laws home.

Jason Henry for NPRAlex Vila-Roger and Sherry Shaffer downsized from a big home in Memphis to the attic of a relative’s house in Pittsburgh after their real estate business went sour.

“We fought it because you don’t want to be a burden on your family, but in the end we had no choice,” says Shaffer. “We’re both college graduates;  had been successful. We’d done everything right and now, all of a sudden, we’re 40 years old — this happens. It was embarrassing.”

More adults ages 35 or older are packing up their households and bunking with in-laws, siblings, parents or other kin. It’s happening at a historically high rate, according to new Census Bureau estimates. Nearly 500,000 such folks moved in with family over the past two years, compared with some 400,000 in the 25-to-34 age group traditionally known for returning to live with parents. Together, the two groups drove an 11.4 percent increase in the number of U.S. households containing extended families.

Indeed, the downturn has pushed more people of all ages to cohabit. The total number of multifamily households, including nonrelated roommates, has risen 11.6 percent — to 15.4 million — since 2008. But the surge’s impact is especially profound among the older adults, accelerating a pattern begun during the 2000 recession: 3.4 million more Americans ages 35 and older have moved in with relatives over the decade. Their numbers increased twice as fast as the age group’s population.

Technically, census data show, taking refuge among family kept nearly 2 million people out of poverty last year. But that estimate doesn’t tell the whole story of how some are suffering.

A Natural Response To Hard Times

Particularly hard hit by job losses and foreclosures, many such adults say moving in with family, much as they resisted, has eased their financial burdens. Census Bureau and economic analysts say the decision is a natural response given the potential benefits.

An Explosion In Extended Families

The weak U.S. economy, and the high unemployment that has come with it, have forced many older Americans to move in with relatives. That’s one reason the growth in that type of living arrangement has far outpaced the growth in that segment of the population. In 2010 there were 159 million Americans who were 35 or older, up 14.1 percent from the year 2000. But the 12.5 million in that age group who were living with relatives was up 36.4 percent:

Growth in extended families:

Source: Census Bureau

Credit: NPR

“If you think about a scenario where people have to pay child care and a relative comes to live with the family and is able to provide child care, that’s a substantial savings,” Emory University economist David Frisvold says. “Then there is sharing rent or mortgage costs or, to a much lesser extent, saving money on food expenses, just because it’s cheaper to serve food for more people. So the savings can be quite substantial.”

Rowena Suckow, a 48-year-old school bus driver, says she and her 8-year-old son “are doing much better” since moving with her 73-year-old mother into a double-wide trailer in Keystone Heights, Fla. In April, she left North Carolina when budget cuts at the school district there ended her hopes of becoming a teaching assistant.

Suckow admits feeling uncomfortable at having to share space with her mother after living alone for many years. She often commiserates with her two sisters and brother, who all are in similar arrangements. One sister, who lives in a neighboring town, has taken in an adult daughter and son-in-law. Her other sister lost her job while pregnant and took her family to live with in-laws in Jacksonville. Suckow’s brother, a schoolteacher in Tampa, is heavily indebted with his late wife’s medical bills and stays with his father-in-law to save money.

It’s like one big holiday dinner that won’t end. You can’t go home after the turkey is carved.

– Rowena Suckow

“Our nerves are shot because we siblings, we love our family but we don’t like living with them,” Suckow says. “It’s like one big holiday dinner that won’t end. You can’t go home after the turkey is carved.”

But It May Cover Up Some Problems

Despite the clear upside, the practice of “doubling up” in homes can mask the severe economic troubles of millions of Americans.

That is because the government determines the economic status of live-in “subfamilies” by combining their wages with the incomes of their homeowning relatives.

“When you see groups of people combining, especially a lower-income group with a higher-income group, the poverty level goes down,” says Chuck Nelson of the agency’s division of housing and household economic statistics. “It definitely improves their economic circumstances to be part of this larger group.”

For example, last year’s poverty rate for the nation’s 4.3 million live-in families was 17 percent, based on the incomes of all related adults under a single roof. This means roughly 731,000 of all live-in families were officially classified as poor.

However, the picture is far worse for live-in relatives when their incomes are calculated separately: Their poverty rate then soars to 44 percent, trapping about 1.9 million of those families.

A Note On Our Reporting

NPR used its Facebook page to look for people who have moved in with family because of the economic downturn. The query generated nearly 600 responses within just a few days, including some from those quoted in this story.

Likewise, the official poverty rate of adults ages 24 to 36 living with their parents was 8.5 percent. If the rate were measured solely on their own incomes, 43 percent of young adults living at home would have dropped below the poverty threshold.

Seven Adults, Two Kids, Two Bathrooms

By the government’s measurements, Alex and Melissa David of Minneapolis had a household income last year of $110,000 to $120,000. If that seems too high for the manager of a supermarket deli section and a part-time social worker, it is. The couple actually earned about $80,000 last year. The higher estimate includes the wages of Melissa’s brother and his girlfriend and two friends — all of whom lived with the Davids until earlier this year.

At the peak, the house was home to seven adults, along with the Davids’ two young children. They were squeezed into five bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each tenant experienced periods of unemployment or underemployment, but all anted up enough rent to reduce Melissa and Alex’s share of the $1,800 monthly mortgage to $200.

“It was awesome,” says Melissa David, 31. Without the extra money, “it would have been awful. When the [housing] bubble burst we still would have had this same mortgage to deal with. … It wouldn’t have been nearly as easy without all the family and friends here.”

Originally published on NPR Website

Warn/Acorn Report on Foreclosures in Pinellas County indicates clearly the challenges families are facing during this economic downturn. You can download the full report (PDF) HERE

This report examines a snapshot of the foreclosure crisis in Pinellas County through an analysis of homes undergoing foreclosure proceedings during January, February, and March of 2008. Records of foreclosure proceedings in Pinellas County Circuit Court are available to the public on the County’s official website. A review of these records shows that 3,005 residential foreclosure proceedings were in progress during the first three months of 2008. While foreclosure on any home is a threat to property owners and communities, we wanted to focus on borrowers in the most dire need.

Therefore, we eliminated from our list property owners who owned more than one property in the county, or whose address of record is outside of the county, and ended up with a list of 1,001 foreclosure proceedings—all of which likely involve homeowners in danger of being evicted from their only home and residence (i.e., likely involving “homesteaded” properties). This is the data set presented in this report.

Almost half of these 1,001 foreclosures were occurring in St. Petersburg, but the remainder were spread throughout practically every community in the County—from Tierra Verde to Tarpon Springs. In fact, there was no spot in Pinellas County more than 2 miles from a homeowner facing foreclosure proceedings in early 2008. Furthermore, the crisis is affecting homeowners across the economic spectrum, with homes in foreclosure having market values ranging from under $50,000 to over $1 million. (Almost 10% of the homes on the list are worth more than $300,000.)

While the effects of the foreclosure crisis are harder to quantify than its extent, numerous social and economic ills can be linked to foreclosure. Those evicted from their homes are clearly the most affected—for them, foreclosure may mean a substantially lowered sta dard of living or even homelessness. Their former neighbors and communities,however, also feel the impact.

Between 2005 and 2007, the homeowner vacancy rate in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area rose from 1.8% to 5.1%, giving it in 2007 the second-highest vacancy rate among large metropolitan areas nationwide. High rates of foreclosure and resultant vacancy have been linked to higher crime rates and lower property values. Lower property values, in turn, often result in cuts to much-needed social services, from schools to law enforcement.

The Center for Responsible Lending predicts that Pinellas County properties will lose over $700 million in value as a result of foreclosures related to subprime mortgages issued in 2005-2006 alone. That equates to a loss of over $14 million in property tax revenues.


If you or anyone you know is in need of assistance, dial 2-1-1. You can also visit the Emergency Assistance Page at My Family’s Future. There may other helpful resources for you and those you care about on that site as well.

by Mark Holmgren, EVP
United Way of Tampa Bay
Note: this is the third and final installment of our series on Homelessness. If you want to read the first two installments, click here for Part One and click here for Part Two.


In Florida, there is a growing awareness of economic factors that are impacting not only persons of low income, but the middle class as well. Escalating property insurance and taxes are major contributors to the community’s increasing concern about affordable housing. Companies are increasingly concerned about what they call “workforce housing.”

Foreclosures are up. Businesses are finding it more difficult to attract employees because of the total cost of housing is so expensive.  While I don’t have any current data to cite, I do wonder how many middle class folks are just a few paychecks from becoming homeless themselves. 

The lack of affordable housing has its natural effects. People on fixed incomes will move away. The best and the brightest prospects for the jobs that exist in our community will go elsewhere. People will lose their homes. Financial institutions will suffer; some will close their doors. Money will get tighter, and so on. None of these problems are any one individual’s fault. And they are no one organization’s to solve.

If you have gotten this far in this series, you are likely wondering what the answer is. If I had to answer you quickly, I would admit that I am not sure.  Not all that helpful, I know. But on reflection that admission actually points to an answer and it is this. No one person or group or business or church or government has the prescription. Major social and economic problems cannot be effectively addressed by any one sector or by a political party or by a few of us.

Subscribe to this blogBut perhaps all of us can create a response to homelessness together. In fact, I believe (and yes some have called me naïve or a dreamer once or twice in my life) – but I do believe that most social change is possible when we work for it together. Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims and those with other beliefs, the conservatives and the liberals, the entrepreneurs and the union leaders, the wealthy and the poor and everyone in between.

I believe fiscal conservatives can work with fiscal liberals. I believe each individual can carry his or her political persuasions to a common table around common issues. I believe differences of race and gender are assets to collaborative actions that in the end strengthen all of us.

I believe this, not because I think this is just a dream to aspire for, but because it happens. That spirit of cooperation and action for the common good is what spawned the United Way in Denver back in 1887. And such spirit is alive in Tampa Bay.

The United Way of Tampa Bay works hard to be that hub of the community wheel. We are not so much an organization as we are a movement of people and organizations trying to do things together that will strengthen the community and help people one individual at a time.  Our ability to have impact as an organization is directly tied to people like you and employers like yours, and government representatives, and community leaders, and every day people working together at the common table.

When I was younger – and perhaps more idealistic than I am today – I read Thoreau. You likely did, too. I don’t recall the direct quote, but I remember the effect of his words. Thoreau spoke of reform and said that it always begins with the self. When I think of that great American now, I relate what he says to “change.”

To change the world around us also means we have to change ourselves. We know that’s true. We know it intellectually, and we feel it emotionally, and we can embrace it spiritually. Still it is important to remember that few of us change ourselves all by ourselves. We need help and support.

Each of us as individuals won’t change the community by ourselves. United Way, the organization, won’t change community conditions like homelessness by itself. But United Way as a movement of people and organizations can make the kind of change we want to make. The spirit of cooperation is a powerful principle to guide us as we craft change, together and as individuals, toward a better place for everyone.

There are numerous efforts throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas County to address homelessness. If you want to know more, if you want to get involved, please contact us.

For further reading and information consider the following:

Opening Doors of Opportunity (PDF)
A Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Pinellas County

Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless is an independent community based not-for-profit organization that provides public education, advocacy, program support, capacity building and technical assistance to the homeless service community.

The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County is actively addressing funding, public policy, advocacy, and planning opportunities to address homelessness and affordable housing issues in Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Report (PDF)
Attainable Housing for Hillsborough County’s Growing Economy.

Pinellas Hope
Read our blog entry about Pinellas Hope and link to their website.

Mark Holmgren has served as the Executive Vice President of United Way of Tampa Bay since August 2005. He moved to Tampa Bay from Edmonton, Canada, where he was active with United Way and also helped develop shelters and innovative, long-term housing for the chronically homeless. You can reach him at
by Mark Holmgren, EVP
United Way of Tampa Bay
Note: this is the second installment of our series on Homelessness.
If you have not read the first installment, please click HERE.

In my many years working directly with the homeless I never met one who deserved to be so. Most were there because of tragedies they were not able to overcome on their own. Some were there because they just ran out of money. We could blame them for that, but I have never understood the benefit of doing so.

I cannot fathom trying to sort the homeless into those who deserve to be homeless and those who do not deserve to be.

Homelessness will not be solved by the politics of personal blame. We won’t get far if Democrats and Republicans pit liberal spending against trickle down economics because neither, alone, is enough. 

Social activists need to realize that a small business owner who doesn’t want a homeless person sitting by the front window is not automatically an uncaring person. At the same time, the business owner should realize moving social problems to the next block is not the answer either.

homeless2.jpgIt is reasonable and natural for us to be fearful of homelessness. It is understandable to be wary of a scruffy looking man standing at our front door or tapping on our car window. Most of us are not equipped to deal with a delusional old man talking to himself in the middle of the road. Most of us have no idea how to reach out to help a woman who is foraging through the trash.  

When I hand five dollars to the homeless veteran standing on the off ramp, I am saddened to think of his situation and to know that I really have no clue how to help him. I imagine you feel a similar sadness and that sense of wishing you could do more. So yes, it’s not easy. The problems are complex, not simple. None of us can change much by ourselves.

Just as none of us have achieved our success without the help, support, and guidance of others, it is also true that the problems of our neighbors are connected to us as a community. Why? Because ultimately social problems affect all of us.

We all know, for example, that the health problems individuals face have social and economic consequences. We all know a healthy workforce is more productive than one prone to sickness and days off from the job. Blaming individuals for unhealthy habits is no more effective than blaming an employer for not promoting healthy lifestyles at work. Pointing fingers is rarely an effective strategy.

While mental illness, alcoholism, abuse, and the lack of personal resources do cause homelessness, there are social conditions that contribute, that help to create an environment in which homelessness becomes a growing problem and concern.

The answers to such conditions are ours to address, not only to help the homeless, but to help ourselves.

Come back on Monday, March 10th for the third installment on Homelessness.
Mark Holmgren has served as the Executive Vice President of United Way of Tampa Bay since August 2005. He moved to Tampa Bay from Edmonton, Canada, where he was active with United Way and also helped develop shelters and innovative, long-term housing for the chronically homeless. You can reach him at
by Mark Holmgren, EVP
United Way of Tampa Bay
This is the first part of a three part series on Homelessness.

The homeless problem in Tampa Bay may not be homeless1.jpgas great as one might experience in Chicago, Detroit, or Miami, but I doubt a homeless person in our community is making such an observation.

Homelessness may be a complex societal problem, but for the homeless it is a devastating day to day personal experience. To him or her it makes little difference if the social problem is greater elsewhere.

The tendency for the rest of us is not to recognize a social problem until it hits a threshold of numbers and severity that we cannot help but see. Unfortunately, often when that threshold is reached, the challenges facing the community are so great it is difficult to visualize a way of resolving them.

Sometimes the reality of homelessness in our communities first becomes a concern because homeless people sleep in doorways, congregate in shopping areas, put up tents on public ground, and bring along the substance abuse or mental illness that often accompanies a homeless person.  Our own discomfort often precedes our understanding of the considerably greater discomfort of being without a home.

It’s hard to admit, but sometimes society seems to care more about where the homeless are located than the actual homelessness itself. The reactions are understandable.  Even though I have worked in human services most my life and have built housing for the homeless, I have experienced the personal discomfort of a homeless person knocking on the front door of my home, asking me for money or food, or work.

There I am, in my home, my door open to an unshaven man in dirty clothes that don’t fit him, and I am wondering about my safety. I feel nervous because I know he wants something from me. I am wishing he had knocked on another door.  It is hard to be charitable when doing so somehow feels threatening. It is difficult to do the right thing when a social issue like homelessness is standing at your front door looking you in the eye, not only asking for your help but bringing the problem a few feet away from your living room.

We tend to forget that the panhandler or the bottle collector or the old woman in tattered clothing jabbering to herself on the corner were not born that way. When I served as a community worker in the urban core of a major city, I quickly learned that the street people there had been nurses, farmers, engineers, policemen, railroad workers, members of the PTA — not to mention fathers and mothers.

Something happened in their lives. They lost their job, suffered a personal loss, became mentally ill. Some took to drugs or drinking. Young people abused at home escaped to the streets and fell into prostitution or drugs or both. Women ran from a violent spouse with little more than the clothes on their backs. The stories told were many and varied, but there was a common undercurrent to nearly all them: no one aspired to live on the street.

Come back on Wednesday for Part 2 of this series.

Mark Holmgren has served as the Executive Vice President of United Way of Tampa Bay since August 2005. He moved to Tampa Bay from Edmonton, Canada, where he was active with United Way and also helped develop shelters and innovative, long-term housing for the chronically homeless. You can reach him at

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