The Unhoused
Published April 23, 2022

The Unhoused

165,000,000 people may be one unanticipated hardship away from finding themselves without a roof over their heads or food in their stomachs.

by Susan E. Stutz

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Unhoused person sleeping on a bench with an American flag blanket.

Spencer Platt, Getty Images

My home is my castle. My sanctuary. In my home, I am safe from the conflict that engulfs our country and our world. I am one of the lucky ones. And, chances are, so are you. But, the same cannot be said for an estimated 500,000+ Americans who have no home to go to on any given night. Of that number, approximately 65% are lucky enough to find a bed in a shelter; however, the remaining 35% must find shelter where they can, which generally means a sidewalk, an abandoned vehicle or building, or a park bench. And, as with most social challenges, people of color and indigenous people are the hardest hit as a result of the blockades that exist in academia, the housing market, employment opportunities, as well as the inequities in our court systems.

Some of the reasons underlying the unhoused problem in our country include the fallout from natural disasters, lack of access to medical care, mental health challenges that go undiagnosed and untreated, drug addiction, and the barriers to employment that pays a wage that people can actually live on. And, then there is the fact that even if you are employed, the majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings to fall back on. This means that 165,000,000 people may be one unanticipated hardship away from finding themselves without a roof over their heads or food in their stomachs. And, while the lack of shelter and food are the most important aspects of being homeless, there are other consequences that most people do not think of and that we take for granted. These include a lack of sanitary products for persons with menstrual cycles and limited or no access to clean water. Potable water is life. Without it, we die. Period.

There does not seem to be a consensus on how much money it would actually take to eliminate this crisis in our country; however, there are things that we can do individually or through larger groups to lend a hand where and when we can. Consider donating to a local shelter or food bank. If you do not have extra money but do have time, consider volunteering.

And, there are also actions that we can take that do not cost anything. First, we can think about the language that we use when discussing this issue. “The word homeless has become inseparable from a “toxic narrative” that blames and demonizes people who are unhoused.” Words matter and the ones that we choose to have the potential to further demonize individuals, reify ugly narratives, and add to the challenges that already exist. Second, we can remember that the person on the street could just as easily be me or you. No matter the reason one finds themselves unhoused, they are still human beings worthy of respect and compassion. Simply making eye contact and acknowledging them instead of looking away goes a long way toward seeing their humanity and being empathetic.

According to the folks at The Right to Shower here are some other ways to help:

Make cards to promote nearby shelters. Find out who’s doing ground-level services for the unhoused in your backyard and familiarize yourself with their locations and any special populations they serve. Then make small cards with their contact info and offer them to people you meet who are living without shelter.

Donate clothes, especially socks. Shelters are always in need of new and gently used clothes, especially personal hygiene items and socks. Share on social media that you’re making the donation and volunteer to bring over any items that others chip in.

Volunteer your time. Most shelters or service organizations will welcome your on-hand assistance, and in many cases, they have staff members who cultivate volunteer relationships. Be honest about what you’re capable of, whether it’s one event or a regular shift at the shelter.

Fundraise. With social media and crowd-funding options like GoFundMe, it’s never been easier to solicit support for an organization or a cause. Don’t underestimate the power of in-person communal events like bake sales and school campaigns, though.

Participate in your city’s Point-in-Time count. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds networks of unhoused-serving agencies (called “continuums of care” or CoCs) in many cities. CoCs are required to conduct annual or biennial Point-in-Time Counts, where volunteer teams spread out across the city and perform a headcount of the unhoused individuals. That number then becomes an essential data point as HUD decides future funding levels.

Remember the younger unhoused. Unaccompanied teens experience the crisis of being unhoused much differently than adults do, and a different network of services addresses their specific needs. Take the time to learn about the youth shelters and unhoused-services organizations in your region, and see what kinds of donations and volunteer efforts they need as well.

Research your local candidates. Politicians can dictate your community or city’s policies and funding levels for community services and affordable housing. Take the time to learn candidates’ positions and proposed solutions and the issues that lead to them, and support those who echo your values. And, if your legislators do not share those values with you, you can lobby them to take a more compassionate approach.

You can also join others in signing this petition calling for funding to provide more community resources to support those who are unhoused.

And, if this petition does not strike the right chord for you, send mayorWrite or call your Mayor state governor to 50409 to send a letter to your representatives encouraging them to take steps to eliminate the unhoused crisis in your community. And, after you have sent your letter, you can turn it into a petition that you can then invite family and friends to sign.

You can also tune in to Resistbot Live on Sunday, April 24 at 1:00 p.m. on YouTube and join the conversation on the unhoused crisis in America.

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