November is a time of transition, from fall to winter. It’s also a time to remember our brothers and sisters who are homeless.
Two initiatives, Homeless Youth Awareness Month and National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 15-23), help shine a spotlight on this issue.
According to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report released in October, 6,055 people in Wisconsin were homeless during a one-night count in January 2014. Nationally, the number of homeless counted in a single night was 578,424.
While this report provides a one-day snapshot, it does not show the full impact of homelessness.
For instance, another report, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” issued Nov. 17 by the National Center on Family Homelessness, calculates that nearly 2.5 million U.S. children — one in every 30 — were homeless at some point in 2013. These figures come from the U.S. Department of Education’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless kids in public schools, along with estimates of homeless preschool children not included in the DOE count.
Child homelessness is more severe in California, according to the DOE report, which said that more than one-fifth of the 2.5 million homeless kids (nearly 527,000) reside there.
Few things can be more heart-wrenching than a mother or father not being able to provide the basic necessity of housing for their children. What’s worse is that homelessness significantly impacts the health and well-being of children, to the point of trauma, according to the center on family homelessness.
In northeast Wisconsin, we hear about the outreach efforts to homeless men and women: St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay; The Haven, a men’s shelter in Manitowoc; Fox Valley Warming Shelter and COTS in Appleton; and Father Carr’s Place 2B in Oshkosh, among others. All of these initiatives to serve the homeless are examples of what Pope Francis calls reaching out to members of the “marginalized church.”
It’s critical that we continue to support ministries that serve the homeless. It’s equally important to consider why people are homeless.
First, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness, is a lack of affordable housing as well as housing assistance programs. An estimate from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that an hourly wage of $18.79 is needed to afford housing, but the average renter makes only $14.32 an hour.
Poverty, caused by unemployment and a decline in public assistance, also leads to homelessness. Other factors include mental illness, addiction, lack of affordable health care and domestic violence.
What can we do to address these problems?
The National Coalition for the Homeless offers a plan to end homelessness it calls CARE:
- Contribute: Material assistance can go a long way in helping people. Donate clothes — such as items that people can wear to job interviews or to wear to work — to shelters. Support a homeless person or family by raising money to contribute to a security deposit, babysitting or other needs.
- Advocate: Work with people who serve the homeless. Contact elected leaders and ask them to support legislation that addresses these issues.
- Reach out: Volunteer with organizations that help the homeless or build low-income housing.
- Educate: Learn about the root causes of homelessness and share what you learn with others.
Contact any of the local shelters listed above for more information about how to show you CARE.