Home for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and we prepare to give thanks for all that we have, but for many Americans, home is not where they will spend the holidays. Many will spend the holiday season on the streets or in shelters.

Over 600,000 people are homeless on a given night – these people sleep in the streets or in shelters. More than 1.5 million Americans will be homeless at some point during the year. Count the people who stay with family or friends and that number of homeless people jumps dramatically.

The overwhelming majority of poor people do not sleep in the street or in shelters. Most individuals have social safety nets, other than government [safety net] programs, in the form of family, friends and community. When bad things happen, many of us can turn to loved ones for support. For the majority falling from housing into homelessness, 72 percent lived with family or friends before ending up in the shelters or the streets. Homelessness is happens when a person’s safety net disappears.

The outlook for future progress in the war on homelessness is promising. More so than with poverty, local governments, private charities and churches can play a vital and effective role in assisting the homeless. New service models are being tested in different cities and regions of the country so we can figure out what works and what doesn’t. More programs are emphasizing data and performance-based measures of success. Creative new programs are springing up. For example, Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH), a nonprofit in Johnson City, Tennessee, continues to help find affordable houses for the chronically homeless with disabilities, many of which are veterans. Housing is paired with meaningful opportunities to connect with community and work.

An important aspect of providing help for the homeless is funding. Some funding is accomplished through government dollars and this is determined by grants to regional areas based on data on homeless numbers. In January, each year, the point in time (PIT) survey is conducted all across America. It occurs on one night, as a directive of HUD and a snapshot of homelessness on a single night. In Northeast Tennessee, ARCH will perform the PIT on January 22, 2015. Volunteers are needed to perform this survey by counting the homeless in Northeast Tennessee. Call ARCH at (423) 928-ARCH (2724).

The future on the battle against homelessness is promising, but we must not lose sight of the real suffering faced by real people – even if they are made invisible by poverty statistics. Our main focus and overarching goal must not only be to put roofs over heads, but to address the complex issues facing some of the worst off among us. The war on poverty will not be won until we also win the war on homelessness. Until then, Home for the Holidays will mean life in the streets for many Americans.

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