by Lisa Jablonover, Volunteer at makingCHANGE
November signals the beginning of the holiday season. For many of us that means enjoying the warmth of family and friends, decorating our homes, and eating more pumpkin pie than we care to admit. But for some of the homeless people in our area, the falling leaves signal falling temperatures, scarcity of light, greater preoccupation with finding a warm place to sleep and increased demand on our food pantries to satisfy hunger.
Boasting a median income level of more than $100,000/year, it’s hard to imagine homelessness in Howard County. But for the more than 200 people who are living in shelters, the woods or in cars, homelessness is not something they imagine; homelessness is a daily struggle for food, safety and stability. Hundreds more of our residents are at risk of becoming homeless– doubled up, moving from sofa to sofa, threatened with eviction or foreclosure. Shelter beds are almost always full with about a dozen people being turned away each day.
Some of the faces of our homeless have changed in recent months and others remain the same. Our chronically homeless population, those people who may suffer from severe mental illness or addiction, continue to need our help. In addition, the struggling economy has created a growing number of situationally homeless families, those people who for a variety of reasons lost everything. Many were laid off and can’t find work; some lacked adequate health insurance when a major illness occurred; and some simultaneously lost a loved one and the steady income they once provided. For many of these families, homelessness was something that happened toother people… until it happened to them.
Homelessness is not inevitable. We don’t have to learn to live with it. It can be prevented and other communities are showing it can be done. Howard County has a Plan to End Homelessness (visit www.howardcountymd.gov, click on Departments, then Citizen Services, to download a PDF of the full report). To accomplish this goal, there must be a focus on prevention and rapid re-housing. Prevention involves increasing efforts to identify and provide stabilization to people who might otherwise become homeless. Rapid re-housing (Housing First) refers to an approach to move homeless people to permanent housing quickly in conjunction with organized efforts to provide basic support services to keep them housed.
Homeless people in our community have several places to turn for support. Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is Howard County’s only full service shelter serving both men and women. There is also the Cold Weather Shelter, run by Grassroots, which is open during the late fall through the winter. Consisting of a network of several faith based organizations in our community, congregations take turns offering our most vulnerable residents a meal and warm place to sleep. In addition, also relying on the generosity of volunteers, the Day Resource Center, sponsored by Grassroots and located on Rte. 1, provides a safe place to take care of basic needs for homeless people who do not have shelter. But for the Center, homeless people living in the woods would not have a place to shower, do laundry, get basic medical care or receive support services.
There are a number of other non-profits in our community, in addition to Grassroots, that strive to prevent homelessness, help our homeless population regain stability, and treat the devastating consequences homelessness creates. Bridges to Housing Stability provides both transitional housing and case management to help families get beyond immediate crisis and remain sheltered. The Community Action Council also provides a variety of support services including housing, food and energy assistance. The Domestic Violence Center provides women in crisis a place to rebuild their lives through shelter, counseling and case management. And there are many more organizations in our area providing support services and financial assistance to residents in immediate need. Unfortunately, the emergency funds run out before the emergencies do.
The holiday season is traditionally a time when we think of others—sending cards, gifts and warm wishes. This year, please consider supporting the organizations that provide services to our homeless population and those at risk of becoming homeless. They need our help. Here are some links to get started: