GETTING HELP IN OUR COMMUNITY
The faces of the homeless are as varied as their underlying reasons for their situation. For many, it happens quickly when something occurs that disrupts their household such as a loss of a job or a loved one. After months of unpaid rent an eviction notice is posted on the door or missed mortgage payments put the house into the foreclosure process. If sufficient income is available, the occurrence could be only a short stay in a motel until the new house is ready, but for lower income households the situation becomes life altering.
Some young adults, they bounce from house to house, sleeping on couches, not really meeting the legal definition of homelessness, yet they lack a stable place to call their own. Others may be staying with a relative or friend, jeopardizing that relationship because it may be in violation of the lease or regulations with the Housing Authority or other agencies. Some may have made their car their living quarters, parking some where with Internet access, and using public facilities for personal hygiene. By the time these folks realize that they are in dire straits, they get hit with a second problem that our shelters have waiting lists. So, not only are they mired in the crisis of homelessness, they are also devastated that they don’t know where to turn to get out of this dilemma. Getting Help in Our Community for homelessness issues takes a lot of coordination of resources and information.
The Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness is planning activities for awareness of Hunger & Homelessness Week Nov. 18 through Nov. 22 in our community. This organization is a coalition of government and community or faith-based groups that focus on homeless issues all year long.
The group, which includes the City of Fort Wayne Office of Neighborhood and Housing Services, United Way of Allen County, The Rescue Mission and other agencies, recently held a news conference on the Courthouse Green with the mayor to focus attention on the issues of the homeless in our community. From collections of blankets and toiletries to give to homeless persons, to a special screening of the award winning movie “American Winter,” which is the poignant tale of families struggling to get by on minimum wage jobs, there is something special everyday to help those in need in our own neighborhoods.
Some of the planned activities include “Skip A Lunch” and “Stuff a Bus” to highlight the problem of childhood hunger and homelessness. While many people want to paint the homeless as “lazy” or “bums,” the ugly truth about the homelessness problem is its effect on families with children. Vincent Village has a brochure for teens on what to expect when their families move into shelter housing. The issue is so great that our local schools have staff persons in place to help children in need.
According Krista J. Stockman, spokesperson for Fort Wayne Community Schools, “The number of homeless students Fort Wayne Community Schools supports grows each year. As we work with homeless families, our goal is to make sure the children’s school lives are as normal as possible. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty so even when children are without a permanent home, we want to ensure they have the safety and security of a permanent routine at school. We encourage families who are struggling to let us know so we can assist them in accessing local resources.”
But, at the other end of the spectrum are senior citizens in a housing crisis. Perhaps they are afraid that someone will force them into a nursing home against their will or, more commonly, their meager income from Social Security doesn’t cover rent, food and medicine. Whatever the reason, these members of our families are in danger staying in a dilapidated house that no longer meets their needs or ability to maintain. It is great if living with a relative is an option, but in some cases, their adult children aren’t stably housed either or other issues with family or in-laws arise. No one wants to see Grandpa camping under a bridge, but without access to resources and information, Grandpa’s options will be limited. The Fort Wayne Allen County Guide to Services is an excellent tool to help families talk to their elder members about CHOICE—Community Home Options to Institutionalized Care for the Elderly or Disabled.
The Fort Wayne Area Council on Homelessness is one of the entities that perform the annual Point in Time Count to determine how many people are homeless in our community. This data is important to allocate the resources to organizations to help the homeless or people at risk of homelessness, but it doesn’t stop there. Numbers alone cannot tell the story of the individuals and families of the homeless, but a caring heart can make a difference. If you have ever personally endured a housing crisis or worked with those who are homeless, you know that we can not turn a blind eye to people in need. But what can we do?
If we encounter someone in a housing crisis, make sure that they have information to call 211 to learn about local resources that may be able to help. From that initial call, they will be screened and given information about specific places to contact or programs for which they may appear to qualify for assistance. This is far more effective than randomly calling agencies that don’t have the means or the mission to help. If you are reluctant to give cash directly, give gift cards for food or other items. Attend the programs that are planned in our community for Hunger & Homelessness Week or host something on your own.
If you or your non-profit or faith-based group wants to learn more about how you can help the homeless, contact me via Frost. Getting Help in Our Community begins with all of us.