January 31, 2011

Homeless Count Reveals Compelling Stories

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Our guest blogger today is Jane C.W. Vincent, Regional Administrator for Region III

It may be frigid outside but inside the Emmanuel Dining Room in Wilmington, Delaware, homeless individuals, families, and children find warmth, camaraderie, compassion, and a table for them to gather around with flowers as the centerpiece.  And there in the midst of it, you’ll find Brother Rudolph, the Director of this dining room, preparing and serving the meals, shaking hands with the adults, and sharing hugs and smiles with the little ones.

It’s not a soup kitchen or an assembly line, it’s a dining room –a place where families who spend their days on the street can come out of the cold and eat with dignity and respect. What a wonderful respite Brother Rudolph provides from the harsh reality of what life on the streets is like.

That’s where I met Mike, homeless for more than a year and a half now, who told me his story.  He was the caretaker for his mother and when she died, he lost everything including the place he called home. Now, he’s thankful for a hot meal, and a warm place to sleep until he can get a job, find a place of his own, and access badly needed medical care.  And he gets nourishment here at Emmanuel Dining Room where volunteers are surveying those who come through the doors to get a count of the homeless population in Wilmington like so many others are doing across the country. 

Then, there’s Joe who explained that his housing costs are so high he can’t afford to buy food.  It’s sad to think that a person has to make a choice between paying his utility bills and paying for food. He is one among 200 people served breakfast and lunch daily at this dining room. When he can no longer pay his housing costs, he will be homeless too. For now, his story will not be among those included in the point in time survey.

It’s the compelling stories that remind us that each number we tally is a person, a person who is living the nightmare of searching for a place to live each and every night or one who is at risk of being homeless. Someone who may be working or may be without a job, or – like Mike — be headed out to look for some day work.  Someone who chooses every month between having food on the table and keeping the heat on.  Someone who needs a doctor, but won’t go to one today.

Sometimes we see their faces, but we don’t know their names or their stories.  That’s why volunteers take one week in January to go to the shelters where they sleep, visit the day centers, the dining halls, and the job placement centers they frequent to seek them out and hear their stories and what services they need.  That’s when you get to know the plight of the homeless, the stark reality of a life many of us could never imagine, and that‘s when you rededicate yourself to the President’s National Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Personally, I want to take up the challenge put forth by Joe—the challenge to make the point in time survey meaningful and not just a data collection exercise.  I want to be part of the solution to ending veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015 and to ending homelessness among children, families and youth by 2020.

3 Responses to Homeless Count Reveals Compelling Stories

  1. As family’s lose their income and their homes they are pushed into the rental market which renting is as high or higher then the mortgage they could not pay The property taxes are so high landlords cannot afford to offer affordable housing.One of the problems I see is a lot of money is wasted on emergency housing it can cost up to 5000 a month for a family of three to live in a shelter and that same family is only allowed 1094 for permanent housing through the dept of social service. Something has to give. We need more funding from hud for the sec 8 program. I am a real estate agent on long island and 98% of my clients are in shelters and there is not enough housing to meet the need. I am also disabled and i have 2 disabled children in wheelchairs i am on 2 different sec 8 waiting lists and no funding has come down for a long time i have been waiting for many years and i feel homelessness is ignored and for some its a business i could go on and talk about wasted money but it would do no good i only wish i had the job of over seeing the laziness of those who we the tax payer pay to get the job done.enough excuses charity begins @ home im all for feed the children but lets feed ours first.. lets stop sending our money to other countries WE NEED IT HERE

    enough for today

  2. Yes, we all returned with the person and the story in our hearts. It was difficult to sleep that night, as I pondered the plight of so many people. Maybe if we the stories to the press, people’s hearts would be touched. I dream someday that a group of people with great imaginations, big hearts and ability think outside the box, will gather and come forth with some solutions never before thought of.

  3. Pingback: We Cannot Count on Homeless Counts to end Homelessness – Poverty Insights

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