Did Not Make It Home for the Holidays

The weather [this month] not only played havoc on retail sales but ruined many holiday celebrations by causing electrical outages, undelivered packages and [poor travel conditions]. December brought the coldest weather some areas have seen in decades, [including] a reading of 135.8 degrees below zero […] in Antarctica, […] the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth. […]

With this extreme weather, […] I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be homeless during this time. [Recently], USA Today reported on [Isaac Simon], a financial adviser who, [once a week] for the last six years, […] packs his white van [in Manhattan] with soup, bagels, milk and oranges and drives into areas where the homeless gather. He also has clothes to help those less fortunate. When you think that New York City, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, has [51,000 people] in their homeless shelters, […] you know America has a problem that we can’t just sweep under the rug. With that many people in need, we need hundreds of Isaac Simons to help just in Manhattan alone.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 25 large and midsize cities indicates that homelessness and hunger have increased and are expected to continue to rise in 2014. [At 15.1%], [t]he [current] poverty rate […] is still near the Great Recession high of 15.1%. In Los Angeles, 20,000 people sleep on the streets every night, and 2,000 of them are families or children living on their own. Homelessness has increased by 26% in L.A. since last year, [and] Chicago [has] reported an 11.4% increase in the number of homeless families, [as well]. […]

In my city of Phoenix, nonprofit [and government] organizations [alike] are acutely aware of the issues facing the poor. We have St. Vincent de Paul serving over 3,600 meals a day to the homeless and families in need. We have the city helping homeless vets to find places to live off the streets. Two years ago, the city identified 222 chronically homeless veterans, of which more than half served in Vietnam. Our mayor, Greg Stanton, announced right before Christmas that the final 56 veterans were placed in housing. This happened because the city council allocated an additional $100,000 in November to accelerate the efforts to help homeless vets.

President Obama’s administration has pledged to eliminate homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015, but it looks like time is running short unless cities and states get involved like Phoenix has. The Washington Post [reports] the state of Massachusetts and the Department of Veteran Affairs have put aside dollars to hire veterans, some formerly homeless, […] to help get veterans off the streets in Boston. They spend one day a week roaming the city’s storefronts, alleys and shelters seeking out these homeless veterans. The rest of the week is spent making sure those put into housing stay the course.

Now that the holidays are over, we as a society begin to focus [more] on our own needs. […] Whether it is finding a gym to get back in shape or a diet to lose the holiday pounds, our attention naturally shifts away from those who need our help 365 days a year. Homelessness is not just the responsibility of our government; it is all of our communal responsibility, whether it is in the dead of winter or the heat of summer. Obviously, volunteering is the best way to get involved, but if you don’t have the gumption of Isaac Simon or the political prowess of Mayor Stanton, then helping out with donated money is a high priority. […] The National Homeless Coalition, The Salvation Army and [CityGate Network] [editor’s note: formerly The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions] all make homelessness their priorities. […]

Maybe what we should all do is what the Lakewood Congregational Church Youth Foundation in northern Ohio does and has been doing for years. On a night in January, they sleep in cardboard boxes outside in the bitter cold and spend the evening seeking donations from community member passing by to help less fortunate families. If that does not wake up the younger generation to the needs of the homeless, then nothing will. Can you imagine if in every city in every state, we all give up the comforts of our homes for one night to experience the immorality of homelessness, what that would do for the psyche of America? I am sure that if we addressed this issue on a grassroots level and all woke up the next morning freezing cold and hungry, […] Congress would hear our collective voices saying enough is enough, and [they] would reverse the recent cuts in food stamps, show compassion with the new congressional budget deal, and help those who need unemployment benefits.

Wouldn’t that be a way to start off 2014?

Original article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-joseph/did-not-make-it-home-for-_b_4524051.html

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