Homelessness – Out of the Shadows

Anita, a 43-year old mother of two, dreaded nightfall almost every day of 2016. In the fall of the previous year, two life-changing crises hit her and her girls. First, her 10-year old daughter fell seriously ill, requiring several hospitalizations. Between days spent at the hospital and subsequently caring for her child at home, Anita lost her job due to excessive absenteeism. By January, she and her girls were evicted from their apartment and were living in a 20-year old car – and dreading every cold, dark night.

This is just one of the thousands of stories, every one different, of homelessness in our community.

On any given night, an estimated 553,742 people in the United States experience homelessness, according to the 2017 national point-in-time estimate. This represents a rate of approximately 17 people experiencing homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population. In Atlanta alone, 3,572 persons were found to be homeless during the point-in-time count conducted in January 2017. Of that 19% of these were identified as an unsheltered individual, meaning they were living in places not fit for human habitation. Ten percent were chronically homeless, meaning most of the rest were episodically homeless.

While it is true that homelessness is often thought to be concentrated in the urban centers of this country, today there is an expansion of homelessness into the suburbs and rural areas as well. We cannot just roll up our windows at each intersection or interstate offramp as those struggling to survive ask for our support. The problem of homelessness exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

Many people with low incomes are at risk of homelessness. One in four renters spends more than half their income on housing, according to the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing report, published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

There are several reasons why people become homeless, however, the main reason is that they cannot find housing they can afford. Other factors can include a chronic health condition, domestic violence, and systemic inequality.

“Homelessness is not a distant epidemic that solely resides in developing countries. It’s an epidemic that resides here, on our campus grounds, and quite comfortably. It lives on the very front yard of Georgia State and our neighborhood of Atlanta”, says Ami Dudley at the Signal, a Georgia State publication.

“The truth is, homelessness – as we see it on the streets, queuing outside of homeless services, presented on the news and in media – has been with us for so long in its present form that the general result is being insensitive or even desensitized,” states Iain De Jong on orgcode.com, “People that are homeless are not seen as equals. People that are homeless are seen as less than.”

This desensitization not only stems from the magnitude of the issue but also the negative stigmas that surround being homeless. Although anyone can be impacted by homelessness, “people on the streets are often treated with distaste,” The HuffPost reports.

To be the force for real change, we’ve got to feel an ache to see a fellow human being asleep on the street. Our reactions of anger, fear, or even that the homeless are invisible keeps us from being part of the solution.

It’s important to keep in mind that losing a job, family, a home, can happen to anyone at any time. Remaining compassionate, caring, and respectful is imperative and can make a positive impact.

While “the federal government has set a series of goals of ending homelessness for veterans by 2015, chronic homelessness by 2017 and homelessness for families with children and youth by 2020,” this task has proven difficult, according to an article by The Atlantic.  

While homelessness has been around for quite a while in its present form, we must not sit by and accept this as a part of our society.

“Change is only possible when you are uncomfortable,” columnist Ami Dudley wrote for Georgia State University’s student newspaper, The Signal. “We’ve got to start feeling uncomfortable about the presence of homelessness in our front yard,” And that discomfort has to lead to action on the behalf of the homeless-not further attempts to hide, criminalize, or ignore them.
In addition to striving for legislative changes, in each community individuals can make a positive impact by donating their time, money, or goods to local shelters and non-profit groups who work solely to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring, such as HOPE  Atlanta. Other groups in the local area that work towards that same end are the Atlanta Mission, United Way, Gateway Center, Covenant House, Salvation Army, Mercy Care, and Crossroads Ministries among many others.

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