It’s dark outside. It’s getting cold. You’ve got the heat turned on now that it’s October. This is beautiful weather. The trees, the crunch of the leaves, pumpkins and mums everywhere, and the smell of autumn in the air are all serene to the soul. Perhaps you sit with candles lit drinking hot apple cider. You’re cozy and warm inside your home with plenty of clothes, blankets, and food. You’re safe. You’re content. You’ve got your family there with you. The kids are tucked in snug. The hubby watches television while you relax and enjoy your social media time. Life is good. You live in America. You’re middle class. You’ve got a nice home, a newer car, and your kids are healthy. This is your world.
Now imagine this. Your finances get turned upside down. Suddenly you don’t have money for food anymore. Eventually you lose your house. You sold your car. You sold your belongings. You had to leave everything behind. Your safety, your security, and the only home your kids ever knew are gone now. You swallow your pride and ask for help. If you’re lucky, your family and friends will take you in and help you get back on your feet. If you’re not so fortunate, you’ll be looking into the face of a new world - a world of homelessness.
This story became all too true for many in recent years due to our economy. Nice neighborhoods became poor. Hands outs became less. Beggars became more. Perhaps you used to give to the needy. Perhaps you turned your head writing them off as lazy or alcoholics and drug addicts. The truth is many who are homeless are not junkies without any work ethic. Many are good people who used to be like you and me. What happened? Who are all these people we see walking around collecting cans or standing around begging for money and food? Is it just me or are there so many more in our area than there used to be? Let’s look at some statistics on just who these people are and what they come from. While for many homelessness is temporary and not a long term suffering, there are so many out there that need help. Over a million people in our country are homeless right now. Over a million people have nowhere to call home. There are more homeless people than there are people that live in the state of Montana or twice as many as live in the state of Wyoming. Some sources say the number is much higher. It is difficult to identify exactly who is homeless. Not everyone goes to shelters. The stereotype is that they’re all old men who will just buy booze if you give them money. Many of these people are families. In 2003 39% of homeless were under the age of 18. What’s scarier is that due to our economy and rising poverty more and more are becoming homeless. The fastest growing group of homeless is families. It is estimated that there are 1.3 million youth living unsupervised without parental care, foster care, or institutional care. Some are kicked out and some run away from home. Almost half leave home because they are being abused. 75% will drop out of school. There are also high rates of homelessness among young adults who aged out of the foster care system without being adopted. In a Midwest study they found that by age 26 36% of foster kids who aged out (whose outcomes were known and able to be reported) had experienced at least one episode of homelessness. The actual number is surely higher because not all kids were found to report their outcomes. Every year approximately 29,000 kids age out of foster care. In Ohio more than 1,000 kids age out of foster care every single year and often become homeless right here in our own cities. Homeless youth are more likely to prostitute themselves for money, food, or somewhere to sleep. They are more likely to become infected with HIV and all STDs. They are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. There are harsh realities for people living on the streets. They are faced with the elements, hunger, malnutrition, depression, lack of clothing and shoes, lack of basic hygiene products, illness often with no access or money for medical care, harassment, robbery, assault, rape, and murder. Some choose suicide to end their misery. Some are kidnapped and forced into human trafficking. Many people think that human trafficking doesn’t happen in America, but in reality it is a huge problem in America. It’s estimated that there are 20 million victims of human trafficking globally. The majority are women and children. Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Some are kept for working. Others are kept as sex slaves. One out of 3 kids who run away will be approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of running away. Imagine being out there right now wandering around dark streets with all these dangers around any corner. How terrifying it must be to have no safe place in the world, no place to call home, and sometimes even no family to call your own.
Strategies to reduce homelessness are:
* creating jobs
* availability of and access to drug and alcohol rehab
* drug and alcohol abuse prevention
* allowing foster kids to be in the system until age 21
* assisted job placement for foster kids
* shelter for people suffering from abuse
* better mental health services for veterans (because veterans experience a high rate of homelessness)
* better control over human trafficking in America
* decreasing the high school dropout rate
* increasing affordability of higher education to reduce poverty
* money management classes being taught in high schools and communities
* and a call to individuals and churches to help those in need