We define homelessness as “the state of lacking fixed, adequate shelter.” The current national numbers on homelessness are much improved from their historic highs of the Great Recession. Right now, it’s between 1.5 and 2 million annually, not the staggering 3.5 million where it had been at its worst. One might argue that we have turned the tide, but we can’t declare success too early. There are still roughly 610,000 people – a quarter of whom are children – homeless at any given moment. In addition, many children age out of foster care into homelessness. Children are our future – surely, we can do better.
The difference between being homeless and having a home is like the difference between zero and one: it’s just not quantifiable. The difference between the type of housing is all relative, and measurable. But housing itself is immeasurably important, and priceless. That’s why it’s considered a basic human right. Think about the different ways people can become homeless. Some have a crisis, such as a health issue, job loss or foreclosure, or fleeing domestic violence. A simple helping hand is all they need. Others may suffer from mental illness or addiction, and need treatment. The streets aren’t a place where they can get well, but many shelters sometimes require behaviors they can’t yet muster, a difficult catch-22. See http://www.nhchc.org/faq/official-definition-homelessness/ for a few official and legal definitions.
Five Good Ways to Get Involved
- Know the resources in your area. Understand the need. Mobilize your congregation to fill that need, by volunteering, or by providing blankets, old books, warm coats, bus tokens, sack lunches, or whatever the shelter needs at this moment.
- If there is a rotating shelter in the local faith based community, become a part of it. Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter is an excellent example, with 20 churches participating: http://faithinactionsv.org/
- Visit 100,000 Homes Website and Enroll / Partner / Volunteer.
- Use “Homeless Connector” to survey your homeless neighbor with your smartphone and send his/her information to the nearest Campaign team!
- Lend your voice ! College students, why not make a social justice movie – Consider the wonderful award-winning student films that have been created so far. They earned cash prizes while having an impact on an important problem: Project Homeless Connect [2010 2nd Place] and The Busker [2011 3rd Place]. Everyone can speak out for housing the homeless and as advocates for protecting affordable housing.
Form a prayer team within your faith community. Pray on it. Many more ideas will arise.
Two Fresh Solutions
- Odds are you have already heard of, or worked with, Rosanne Haggerty, Founder of Common Ground and Community Solutions www.cmtysolutions.org. Her tested innovations in reducing homelessness, rooted in her decades spent directing Common Ground (one of the largest developer of supportive housing in the country), are being scaled nationally through her leadership of the newly formed Community Solutions. Its 100,000 Homes Campaign coordinates the efforts of national organizations and local communities to collectively house 100,000 homeless individuals and families by July 2014. At Common Ground, she helped house 4,500 individuals in and around New York. The 20-block area around Times Square experienced an 87% drop in homelessness following the creation of Common Ground’s Street to Home program. Ms. Haggerty was honored in 2010 with The Elfenworks Foundation’s highest honor: the In Harmony With Hope Award, for her leadership in bringing new hope to America’s domestic landscape. She’s ready and willing to work with the faith-based community to put an end to long-term homelessness. Amen to that!
- Brenda Krause Eheart, PhD, founded GenerationsofHope.org after becoming disheartened by the state of the foster care system in this country. She spent years researching Illinois’ foster care system in her role in academia, and conceived of an intentional intergenerational village filled with parents raising and adopting foster children and senior citizens volunteering to help support the kids and the community in exchange for lowered rents. Hope Meadows opened on a closed military base in Illinois in 1994. Nearly 20 years later, a dozen families live in the community, free of rent. In exchange, they agree to adopt three or four foster care system children who have slim chances of finding permanent homes. Those children, once the most difficult to place, boast a high 89% permanency rate. Like Haggerty, Eheart is a recipient of an Elfenworks Foundation In Harmony With Hope Award.
The above innovators would welcome support and encouragement. Their websites may include current needs, and you can also reach out to them and ask about partnership opportunities. No doubt they’d be happy for the help.