Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Not You?! You don't look homeless!

I took a day off on Tuesday in order to attend a Perspectives Series Breakfast - "Homelessness in Minnesota. A Closer Look" at the Wilder Center in St. Paul.  This is an issue that has affected my own extended family in years past, and thus me indirectly.  I was interested in learning more about the key findings of this study, as well as what various organizations are doing differently today to address the core reasons contributing to this epidemic in our communities.

It was also an opportunity to meet @TCManWalking aka D J, who I've been following and chatting with on Twitter. If you happened to walk past him on the street, you would never be able to guess that D J was homeless.  He looks like any other person who might be sitting in a cube or even a corner office where you work. You might say to yourself "Not You?! You don't look homeless!" He has a vision: to raise awareness about an under-served and unacknowledged homeless population.  These are families and individuals both who are living and sleeping in their vehicles, camping out in non-traditional locations, or moving from friend to friend and family member to family member, places where outreach programs typically do not extend.

The morning conversation focused on the latest statewide data which estimates the number of homeless physically counted on October 22, 2009 to be 9,654 people. Of that number, 1/2 are youth aged 21 years or under.  It's hard to swallow that some of those youth are living on their own, without an adult family member at the tender age of 9.  The number of people who are homeless on any given night in our state they suspect to be closer to > 13,100. While there are percentages of this population who are dealing with serious mental illness, chronic health issues and substance abuse, an amazingly high 26% of homeless adults have NONE of those problems.

The usual suspects contributing to the increasing problem include the battered economy, foreclosures on rentals and owned properties, as well as extended joblessness.  Many of the homeless have seen an already low median monthly income of $400 drop 25% to $300 in the time since the last study was conducted.
This isn't the government's problem to issue to be dealt with.  We all have some responsibility to those less fortunate in our communities.  One of the speakers at the conference was Miss Erica Skuta, a senior at Hill-Murray High School.  Please check out this wonderful & inspiring tool for youth that she co-developed for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless: “A Students Guide to Ending Homelessness.”

There isn't a truly integrated approach to working this problem.  The process of determining what assistance someone may be eligible for is disjointed and cumbersome, plus it assumes that people have easy access to services & technology like internet, a computer & a phone. Cuts in the states budget are directly & negatively affecting the numbers of homeless clients these supporting organizations are able to help.

I asked this same question on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook the other day: Do you work with a major organization or company who is involved  with funding critical community initiatives? If so, then please read one of my friend D J's last posts to find out how you might be able to help him succeed in his mission: Time is my worst enemy

"May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of body and mind quickly be freed from their illnesses.  May those frightened cease to be afraid and may those bound be free.  May the powerless find power and may people think of befriending one another." 
- Traditional  Buddhist Prayer

Everyone should be inspired to reach out & volunteer for a cause they feel is important & where they feel they can make an impact on another person's life for the better.  Everyone deserves to begin & end their days with dignity & hope. My wish is for everyone to get involved somehow - to do their part to make their community a stronger & more secure place for all of us to coexist.

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