By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
In one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, the U.S. homeless population is rising for the first time since the great depression. A new government study finds 553,742 people were homeless on a single night during the annual homeless count in 2017. 2018 is on target to be significantly worse than last year.
Everyone has an opinion about how to fix the homelessness problem. Unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully misinformed, based on stigmas that don’t stand up to the test of reality. Homeless people are often stereotyped and while many of those stereotypes might be accurate some of the time, you can’t mass diagnose the challenges of a large and very complex population.
Even for people who are affected by homelessness or those who are working in the trenches daily to support those without adequate housing, this is an issue with more questions than answers. However, as challenging as it is, it’s hard to make a case that housing shouldn’t be a basic human right, and in the U.S. it’s not. All you have to do is walk through downtown in Anywhere U.S.A. to see the proof of that.
Meg Martin is the director of Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter in Olympia, Washington. While many people in Olympia like to think there is a uniquely challenging homelessness issue in the community, it’s not unique at all.
Meg is in an unusual position to have an opinion on what a community can do to make an impact. She has gone from street level activist, pulling a trailer with a bike carrying emergency supplies for houseless people on the streets at night to the executive director of one of the most successful programs for this community regionally.
Meg recently shared something on Facebook that is worth sharing. (This post has been slightly modified to be less region specific.)
“If you’re interested in supporting people experiencing houselessness in your community here’s a couple of ways:
Give money without strings attached to people asking for it on the streets.
Give money to organizations providing services to people on the street.
Acknowledge, meet, and learn the names of people in your community particularly those living outside–this can happen on the streets by walking around or through volunteering for an organization providing services.
Write to your city council that you support further resources being dedicated to this issue in a way that can strengthen everyone in the community.
If you are a parent who goes downtown with your children because you think it is safe enough to do that tell your city council this message either through email or at public comment. Get other parents to tell them this message also. Talk to your neighbors and tell them you enjoy being downtown.
If you are a business owner downtown or in an area that experiences homeless community members tell your city government you believe that providing for services and places for people to be able to go strengthens the success of your business advocate for those services to the city council.
Learn about the reason why homelessness is on the rise (no affordable housing) and have conversations with people who think it’s because people are irresponsible or addicted or crazy or violent or dangerous etc… Homelessness is complicated. Help people you talk to see homeless people as neighbors because they are.
Find out more about the severe lack of access to substance use treatment in our area. It takes weeks or months to get into treatment if you want it in most communities. The lack of access to mental health services runs rampant in almost every city for people who are interested in these services.
Have conversations with the people in your life about this who may think visible drug use and mental health crises are because people are refusing help. The leading causes of homelessness aren’t drug addiction or mental illness. They are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty. Many houseless individuals are employed.
Tell any and all positive stories (particularly about your downtown) to the city council as often as possible to help shift the narrative. The negative perception narrative that currently exists in most communities is the single most damaging roadblock to more resources being allocated towards additional services.
We need a more balanced narrative and the positive/supportive stories are being greatly outweighed. There are good things going on in communities. There are positive stories to share about the houseless community. Fear is the single leading roadblock to services.”
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