Cities across America observe the annual National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on the day which has the shortest daylight hours. This year it was Friday, December 22. It is in memory of those who have died as a consequence of homelessness.
Led by The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, we met at Washington Park in Cincinnati on this evening for a candlelight vigil and remembrance, naming each person lost. No less than 109 Cincinnatians experiencing homelessness died during 2018.
Over 3 million people are without shelter each night, here in America. These statistics –numbers behind real people— are alarming. It is also unnecessary. For comparison sake, that is a close approximation to how many people live in Los Angeles. Picture that many people homeless!
Lack of affordable housing is one obstacle which pushes people to live on the streets. In Cincinnati, nearly 10,000 people lack a stable, permanent residence. These are individuals and families with children. These are hard-working adults who either go to work each day, yet don’t earn more than minimum wage, keeping them from affording housing. These are also hard-working adults who can work yet are currently unemployed; without money to afford housing.
Here in Cincinnati, advocates are joining forces through grassroots efforts, lobbying, and educating the public, all with the ultimate goal to eradicate homelessness. Housing should be available and affordable to everyone.
Cincinnati is not alone in these problems and efforts to make a viable change. A YouTube channel, Invisible People, has an ongoing vlog which shows the personal stories of people all across America; people who either go to work or who are looking for work and who do not have a place to call home. They are living out of their cars, in tents on the streets, or in shelters one night at a time when available.
In my job at the public library in downtown Cincinnati, it seems at times that we are overrun with homeless persons who hang out in our lobbies. Often, I catch myself wondering why they don’t use our library’s resources to pull themselves up. Then, I stop myself from judging. Some are not only homeless but also mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse and addiction.
Residential treatment centers for those caught up in the unending cycle of homelessness and substance abuse are limited in their availability. And many treatment places are a for-profit business, with an expense which can bar people from seeking help. Those who are both homeless and mentally ill can easily be unaware of their risks on the streets. They too could be helped; even if moved into an assisted care home facility.
And I see that a few people do use our library computers and help from the tech center. Librarians make themselves available to help people learn how to use email, how to write a resume, how to complete an online job application, and so much more. With the influx of people experiencing homelessness who turn to our library for shelter during the daytime, it is my daily reminder of why I am grateful today and that it is up to me to build upon my life.
An excerpt from Chapter 22 of my memoir, “Out of Chaos”….
I moved into a boarding house in downtown [Klamath Falls] at a flat rate of $350 a month, with no move-in deposits and that month prorated. For a little more than one hundred dollars, I was in my seven-by-ten room to figure out my next move. It came furnished with a twin bed, the headboard at one wall and the foot of the bed butted up to my jimmy-rigged pantry shelf. The shared bathroom was right next door to me, so the toilet wasn’t far, but the shower-head sucked so I bathed in another floor’s bathroom.
The location was perfect. I could walk to the State Career Center or the public library in under ten minutes. A laundromat and my morning AA meeting were a little farther away, but doable. Fred Meyer’s was the nearest grocery store, which wasn’t so close. I became a regular at the library where I checked out DVDs [for my seven-inch portable DVD player] so I could take a break from my Lost reruns.
Express [temporary employment services] finally called me one afternoon at 2:00. “Can you be on assignment at five?”
It was for two nights, dinner shifts, washing dishes at the hospital.
Mid-shift on the second night, the kitchen supervisor asked me to join him in his office. Even his office seemed bigger than my apartment. He grabbed a dish towel and wiped away a bead of sweat from his forehead where dreadlocks fell forward. His dark brown eyes captured my attention. He said, “Thank you for coming in on such short notice. Our regular guy is out sick, and we can’t go without a dishwasher.”
I said, “You’re welcome. I’m glad Express called me to help you.”
He tossed the dish cloth in a dirty rags bin. “Most people could care less about washing dishes.”
“It feels good to work,” I said.
“I see that,” he said as he sat down on his desk. “You’re handling those pots and pans without any complaining.”
“I’ve been looking everywhere for work. I’ve got a college degree, but I can’t even get a fast food place to hire me,” I said.
“Yeah, in this town, sometimes it’s a matter of knowing the right person. If you didn’t go to school here or aren’t in someone’s hood, then people don’t know you,” he said.
“Working tonight is a nice change from looking for work,” I said.
“Check in at our personnel office. I haven’t heard of any openings at all, but if there is something, they’ve got my word that you’re a good worker.”
“Thank you. I was in here last week, and a month ago. You all have a hiring freeze.”
He grabbed a binder and a pen and got up off his desk. As he walked me out of his office, he added, “Yeah, that’s the recession for you. Keep up the good work. I’ve got a meeting to catch.”
–end of excerpt–
Although it felt good to work those two nights, I still didn’t have a real job and no earthly idea how I was to come up with $350 for the following month’s rent. I was at risk for becoming homeless again.
For us as a community to connect with people who are at risk for, or are experiencing homelessness, our awareness of this issue and our preventive action will help in the fight to eradicate homelessness.
A few ways to make a difference:
*Contact nonprofit organizations in the community which raise awareness of homelessness. Many have events and fundraisers.
*Volunteer where you can, from soup kitchens to shelters.
*Donate. Community organizations which help the homeless most often accept monetary gifts, food, clothing, and hygiene items.
Being homeless is not only an uncomfortable situation, it is also risky. Many people die from lack of shelter. Here is a video recap of the candlelight vigil in observance of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, 2018.
Link here for my blog post, Homeless People are Dying Every Day — Remembering Them and Advocating for Change. (December 27, 2017).
Statistics from above were retrieved from https://cincihomeless.org/about/education/fact-sheet/
Please share in the comments how you will make a difference today. Together we can strive to eradicate homelessness.
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