Homeless, Cold, Overlooked and Alone

Historically January is the coldest month of the year in most areas of the Northern Hemisphere. This is because the sun's angle is at its lowest during January. And because there is no sun at all above the Arctic Circle, when air masses regularly come down into the regions of the USA, they bring much colder temperatures with them. Also, starting this January, 2.5 million children and their parents will go homeless sometime this year starting with the coldest month of the year.

Who makes up our homeless population? Some homelessness is caused by people losing their jobs and their homes in troubling economic times forcing entire families into homelessness. It is also made up of victims of domestic violence; people suffering from physical illness or mental illness; people addicted to drugs and alcohol; kids caught up in the transition from youth into adulthood; and people who have exhausted their personal relationships the same way other people exhaust their financial resources.

According to the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) report released last month, 549,928 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2016. 68% were staying in emergency shelters, while 32% were staying in unsheltered locations. 22% (120,819) are children and 40% (217,268) are female on any given night. Families make up 35% (194,716) of the homeless population. The encouraging news is homelessness declined by 3% between 2015 and 2016 and has declined by 15% since the great recession from 2007 to 2016, although 16 states did experience an increase. The puzzling news is that between 2015 and 2016 people in unsheltered locations (sleeping on the street) increased by 2%.

Over half of America's homelessness is concentrated in 5 states: California (22%), New York (16%), Florida (6%), Texas (4%) and Washington (4%). And in 4 states over half of the homeless live on the streets: California (66%), Oregon (61%), Hawaii (54%) and Nevada (53%).

HUD has over $2 billion to spend to help the homeless, but this is really a town-by-town, city-by-city, state-by-state issue that must be solved on the local level with help from the HUD budget. Mother Jones reports that Salt Lake City has reduced its homeless population by 72% over the past nine years. A partnership between the city and nonprofit organizations works together by finding and building apartments where the homeless can live with no strings attached. This partnership is called the "Housing First Program." Tenants pay $50 a month or 30% of their income. The central idea of Housing First is to give people shelter first, then focus on drug abuse, mental disorders and other personal issues. NBC reports on a program called "Community First" in Austin, Texas, where the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes is utilizing the recent tiny home trend to provide affordable housing on a 27 acre lot for 250 homeless people. The Washington Post reports that Albuquerque, New Mexico created "There's a Better Way" program where the city hires the homeless for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van picks up the workers, pays them $9 an hour, provides a free lunch and at the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter. Last year they cleared 69,601 pounds of litter.

Homelessness cannot be solved by the government alone, especially in times of government gridlock and lack of allocation of funds. This is a major problem that affects all of us, whether it involves the homeless classmates of our kids or the war hero who once was dedicated to protecting our country. We are not going to solve this by giving our spare change to those on the street. The only way we are going to solve this American issue is to get involved by volunteering at a nonprofit that helps the homeless; and if we can't do that, at least donate to organizations that make a difference. Contribute to Family Promise, which provides homeless families safe shelter, nutritious meals and helps them begin sustainable independence. Give to The Salvation Army, who provides group homes, emergency shelters and transitional living centers, as well as food. Donate to the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions which has 300 missions serving 50 million meals and provides 20 million nights of lodging. Help our youth by helping the Covenant House who is the largest privately funded charity providing care to the homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked and exploited kids. Subsidize Stand Up For Kids, which provides lifesaving and outreach services for homeless, street kids and at risk youth. And at DollarDays and through our Facebook page, we are giving away five $500 shopping sprees to nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless, so make sure you nominate your favorite organization.

We all suffer when we allow our neighbors to go homeless, even for just 1 night. All of our people suffer when we deny any of our children a good night's sleep and a nourishing meal. Our communities suffer when a veteran loses out on their shot to attain the American Dream or fellow citizens are so worried about shelter that they lose the drive to live up to their potential. This is not a political or religious issue; it is a moral issue that our society needs to embrace, not ignore now that the holiday season is over. With a little help from all of us, these 549,928 Americans can find shelter for another night during the coldest month of the year.