-Written by Erik Sargent
As we roll through the winter months and the holiday season, many people are spending time with their loved ones in nice, warm homes, enjoying this wonderful time of year. Unfortunately, for an alarming number of people in the country, this is not the case.
The issues of homelessness in America is an ongoing problem, one that needs constant attention and solutions as organizations and groups work to get people off the streets and into better situations.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single given night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States, and approximately 65 percent were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing program.
Homelessness increased for the first time in seven years, showing almost a one percent increase from 2016, according to the same report. So how does the nation solve homelessness? What is causing homelessness? It’s a complex issue with many layers.
Various issues leading to the problem
“Far and away, the number one cause is eviction,” said Darin Estep, vice president of community engagement for the Volunteers of America Michigan department. “There are underlying causes for eviction, but it’s usually unemployment, loss of job, or a medical condition. Almost all homeless cases result when someone does not have a support system.”
Along with the problem of eviction, drugs and alcohol can play a key role in homelessness, but another major issue is the problem of mental health.
“Some of it can be drug and alcohol related, but a great part of it is mental health issues,” said Jody Naylor, a board member for Homeless Angels, an organization based in Lansing, Mich., that provides temporary shelter for clients and helps them work toward getting back on their feet during rough patches.
“It can be people not taking their medication like they should be. A lot of our clients have mental health issues, and the other large segment is just people who have fallen on hard times and don’t know where to turn.”
One common misconception about homelessness is that it occurs during the winter months, but as both Estep and Naylor pointed out, homelessness has become such a large problem that it now has no season – it’s year round.
“It’s unfortunately a year-round problem,” Estep said. “It’s much more painful and dangerous in the winter because winter can kill you if you’re not in shelter, so it’s important to get people inside and out of the weather. But it is important to remember this problem is year-round, and we are pretty much full 365 days a year.”
Spreading the message
For organizations who provide assistance to people struggling with homelessness, aside from actually providing these services, one of the biggest tasks is making sure people in need are aware of how to get help.
For Estep and the VOA of Michigan, they work on collaborating with other agencies in the Ingham County area where they are based to ensure there is a wide web cast so people are aware they can turn to these organizations for help. This starts by word of mouth or distributing outreach cards in certain areas to spread the message.
For Naylor and Homeless Angels, they often do networking on their own, and also leave their lines open for people to contact them with issues of their own, or if they see someone struggling.
“We have a street ministry team, where there’s a team of people that actually comb the parks in Lansing and they know where a lot of homeless camps are,” Naylor said. “They work on building relationships with the homeless people in the community, because they have trust issues. Once they trust them and know that we are there to help them, that helps with bringing them in.”
Naylor and the Homeless Angels also put a lot of effort into using social media to increase their presence in the Lansing area, and receive messages on a daily basis from people in the community that will point out a person who might be sleeping in their car or in a bridge, and offer the location so the organization can go check on them.
Everyone getting involved
At TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, we put a heavy emphasis on giving back to each of the communities we work in, trying to make a difference in the lives of the people that reside there and making the areas a better place to live. One of our top fall campaigns – Truckload of Warmth – was specifically designed to help with the issue of homelessness, and during it, our franchises partner with organizations in their areas to help provide warm weather clothing that can be distributed at shelters during the cold months.
“We have been doing this drive for several years,” said Kara Berhow, marketing and recruiting director for the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Des Moines, Iowa, location. “Within our community, there is a huge need for these winter wear items. We see that need in our schools and especially in the area’s refugee population. We received request for more than 12,000 items this year. Many people arrive in our city with nothing more than light clothing, and being prepared on a tight budget is a real struggle for families just trying to get started again.”
Berhow and the Des Moines location partnered with a local non-profit organization in the area to help with their campaigns, and also partnered with a local Chick-Fil-A restaurant to collect over 10,000 items that were distributed throughout the area.
“The campaign was incredibly successful, and it is a joy to watch it grow each year,” Berhow said. “Our teams are always thrilled to help with dropping off boxes, picking up donations, manning the ‘Fill the Truck’ events, and delivering the donations. The ability to give back is something that we celebrate here, and it is a blessing to work for a company that puts so much emphasis on philanthropy.”
How the public can get involved
Homeless organizations and companies working to use their resources to fight the issues of homelessness is great, but in order to make a true swing at ending it in certain areas, it takes the efforts of as many people as possible.
These organizations are always seeking volunteers, and they encourage people to contact them and ask for ways they can either assist with their efforts, donate, or provide resources to help the cause.
“I would say there’s three main ways to get involved,” Estop said. “One is to come and volunteer and see the people so you get a ground-level understanding of the problem. Another way is to simply come in for a tour, where we can show you around. Third is to just contribute. We take donations of cash, goods, and time. Any way people want to share with our less fortunate brothers and sisters, we are happy to facilitate that. That’s one of the main reasons we are here – to provide that opportunity.”