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.