Baby, It’s Cold Outside

We’ve had a cold streak here in Pennsylvania.

And I hate it.

I hate being cold.

And so in my gratitude journal these last few days I’ve written, “heat.” I’m thankful for heat. So thankful.

I’m privileged. I have a warm home in which to weather the weather.

Many people don’t.

Randy Jacob via Unsplash

Homelessness is real. In big cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. In small cities like Lancaster, Reading, and Wilmington. And in suburbs and tiny rural areas like mine—Ephrata, Akron, and Lititz. Homelessness occurs everywhere.

Homelessness is not just a problem for those who succumb to alcoholism, drug abuse or mental illness. (According to the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness (LCCEH), mental illness is a factor in just 23% of homelessness.) It is often caused by problems such as job loss, domestic abuse, health issues, and divorce.

Homelessness is also caused by high housing costs. In Lancaster County, 40% of the homeless have jobs. And 72% of households spend 50% or more of their income on housing, utilities and transportation, which is considered “cost-burdened” (from the LCCEH).

So what is being done?

There are several levels of intervention:

Emergency shelters
Here in Lancaster, winter emergency shelters provide warm places for people to sleep overnight. The Lancaster County Council of Churches sponsors a shelter that uses space graciously provided by the YWCA to house women and children. Water Street Ministries provides emergency shelter for men. Unfortunately there are no available shelters I know of where a husband and wife can stay together.

Transitional housing
Those in emergency shelters usually must leave the shelter in the morning, no matter how cold the day, how snowy the streets. It’s not heartlessness—it’s simply that the facilities are used for multiple purposes. But that’s one reason the next priority is to find transition housing for those experiencing homelessness. Water Street Ministries, the YWCA, Good Samaritan Shelter, Tabor Community Services’ Transitional Living Center, Milagro House, Home of Hope, and Clare House all provide longer term housing and services to help people get back on their feet. Depending on the programs, individuals or families may be able to stay for weeks or years.

Permanent housing
Section 8 rental vouchers, rental deposit assistance, and public housing are programs that try to get individuals into long-term housing they can afford. And to help families achieve truly permanent, decent housing, Habitat for Humanity works with individuals to build their own affordable homes.

In Pennsylvania, an individual can call 2-1-1 to speak with a specialist who can help them know their options or chat with one on the PA-2-1-1 website. Because homelessness brings hopelessness and can be overwhelming.

One of my favorite “fun” Bible verses is this:

Again, if two lie together, then they have heat:
but how can one be warm alone?
(Ecclesiastes 4:11)

All of these organizations are able to do their work because of people like you and me “lie together” with them, providing the heat. The heat comes when we volunteer or donate cash, needed supplies, or our expertise. None of us can do it all for all of them. But each of is capable of doing something, even on a limited basis.

Prayer is a vital service we can also offer to each and every one, even if we choose not to volunteer or donate. We can pray for enough affordable housing. We can pray that those who work with the homeless and those in transition don’t grow “weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9). We can ask God to provide the right array of services to help each family move forward into wholeness and healthy living. We can pray that every person comes to know their worth before God. 

Our prayers, our gifts, our service, can help provide the warmth needed by each and every person, the warmth they can’t find alone.

It’s time to turn up the heat.


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