For most of us, this time of year is brutal on our heating bills but could you imagine actually living outside? Last night, I joined a team of volunteers and ventured out in Washington, D.C. to document a problem confronting far too many Americans – street homelessness. In 2009, volunteers like these counted nearly 260,000 persons living on our streets during a single night. They were living in public parks, wooded areas, their cars and other places not meant for people to live. This is a national tragedy.
Just last month, we marked a sobering day of remembrance – Homeless Memorial Day. It was a sad reminder that beyond the daily hardships of living on our streets, people are actually dying out in the elements. How can this be happening?! In part, it’s because homelessness is an invisible problem though it’s actually out there for all to see.
As part of HUD’s Let’s Make Everybody Count! campaign, communities across our country are participating in a national street and shelter count of homeless persons. These one-night counts usually occur at the end of January, traditionally the coldest time of year in many parts of the country. Conducting these snapshot counts at this time of year is designed to make it easier for communities to account for as many homeless persons as possible since clients are more likely to seek shelter and less likely to be among the unsheltered.
Understanding the scope of this problem is critical in solving it. Which is why President Obama is throwing the full weight of our government behind a national plan to prevent and end homelessness. Opening Doors is the name behind the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness and puts the country on a path to end veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015; and to ending homelessness among children, family, and youth by 2020. And just last week, HUD awarded another $1.4 billion to help keep nearly 7,000 local homeless programs operating in the coming year.
So my appeal to those reading this blog is to take a moment to recognize that we have neighbors living outside. And, of course, if you want to help, here’s a good resource to find a locate a homeless assistance provider near you.