Banks should help the homeless

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By Colleen J. Miller

Managing Editor

The arctic cold front that passed through metro Detroit is a wake-up call. Fingers go numb, even with gloves, just walking to across campus.

Being homeless, especially in deathly-cold weather, is unimaginable. Yet homelessness is rising while more and more foreclosed and abandoned properties rot. A drive through Pontiac or Detroit is heart wrenching. Homes have tarps, barely covering windows, while the homeless seek warmth and cover.

In a 2008 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, 41.6 percent of surveyed homeless coalitions said that they think those affected by home foreclosures are on the streets.

Meanwhile, vacant and abandoned properties account for about 15 percent of a typical large city according to the Brookings Institution.

Foreclosures are perpetuating this no-win cycle. I understand the need for repercussions for not making good on a loan, but this process should be reevaluated when Michigan’s unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.

A lot of the people that can’t afford to make their mortgage payments right now are not going to be any better off making a rent payment without the stability that a home offers.

Can you imagine trying to make it on time to the morning shift at JCPenney or trying to find a job without your laptop and Internet, without a loofah sponge, without those peep toe heels that were too impractical to hang on to because they serve no survival purpose when you’re living out of your car, assuming you still have one?

At the same time, the banks aren’t really benefiting from a foreclosure if they are losing a borrower. After all, banks make their money off of loaning people someone else’s money. The banks are cutting their own throat by cutting out their source of capital.

Can’t the banks show a little social responsibility and try to bridge the abyss between the growing numbers of empty properties and people that are homeless?

Most companies do their part to give back to society by donating to causes or starting their own. Starbucks, for example, supports organizations that help create a better coffee product, a better life for those that rely on coffee exports and those that rely on their daily caffeine fix.

Even musicians do their part by writing songs in their old age to combat the prejudices or wrongdoings they may have made seem cool in their heyday. So why can’t these financial institutions make an effort to pay society back for all of the pain they inflict? I don’t consider free checking or a free duffle bag for opening up a CD an earnest enough effort.

A little social responsibility isn’t too much to ask for when the industry is the cause for some of the harm. Banks should team up with the National Vacant Properties Campaign, an organization that assists in vacant property revitalization efforts.

There’s no reason that there should be families freezing at night when there are so many empty buildings.