- What does homelessness look like?
- What does poverty look like?
- Why don’t those people get a job?
- Why don’t they manage their money better?
- Why should my hard-earned tax dollars go to supporting them?
Last month at my American Business Women Association (ABWA) meeting, I heard my friend Cheryl address these issues. Cheryl works at the YWCA, a place that serves as a winter night shelter for homeless women and children in Lancaster County in addition to offering 28 more permanent housing units. It was already cold and shelters were already filling up. Here are some of the things Cheryl shared with us, including some statistics that stunned me.
Ending homelessness in our community starts by understanding the people behind the numbers and looking beyond the myths.
- On any given day in Lancaster County, approximately 360 people are experiencing homelessness. Some are in emergency shelters. Others are on the street, in places not meant for human habitation.
- The homeless population is made up of people of all ages. Men, women and children. Families who have lost the struggle to make ends meet. None of them thought they’d find themselves here… All of them want and deserve a safe place to call home.
- 40% of individuals who have become homeless have jobs.
- 72% of ALL households in Lancaster County are cost burdened. This means that they are paying 50% or more of their income for rent/mortgage, utilities and transportation. Such burdens make the loss of a job or a sudden illness devastating to many families, sometimes resulting in homelessness.
- The average cost for rent in Lancaster County is $834 per month. A person working a minimum wage job ($7.25/hr.) would need to work 107 hours a week just to pay their rent.
- The top 3 groups receiving welfare or public assistance benefits are the elderly, disabled and children.
- The #1 reason individuals give for becoming homeless is family disruption… Fire, death, domestic violence, loss of job and divorce are just some of the reasons families lose their homes.
- Other reasons people become homeless include lack of affordable housing, disability and soaring medical costs.
- 23% of homeless individuals suffer from mental illness.
So to answer our first questions:
Homelessness looks like you and me; people of all ages; people in rural areas, the suburbs and the city; people God created in his own image.
Poverty looks like a job that doesn’t begin to cover the rent for an apartment. It looks like missing a few days of work for a child’s illness and not being able to pay the water bill. It looks like fleeing a man who’s been beating you or your children.
Many of them already have jobs (40%), just not jobs that can pay for housing. Others struggle with mental illness or are elderly or disabled.
Managing your money isn’t easy when more than 50% of it is needed just to cover housing, utilities and transportation. Which would you choose: Food for your child or the electric bill? A doctor’s visit for yourself or a bus pass so you can get to work?
That fifth question—Why should my hard-earned tax dollars go to supporting them?—Is one I will attempt to answer more fully next week.
Until then, let’s spend some time praying for our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. Let’s specifically ask God if there is something we should be doing—smiling, giving, serving at a shelter, befriending someone who is struggling, maybe even looking for ways you (or you and a group of friends) can provide some affordable housing.
And if you are one of the people struggling to make ends meet, fearful of that sickness, that car breakdown, that extra-cold winter that sends the fuel bill skyrocketing, that incident that will push you over the edge—reach out.
To your friends.
To your church.
To the social service agencies in your community.
Don’t let pride keep you from seeking help while the problem might still be managed.
We are all in this together.