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Help homeless in ways large and small

When you think of homelessness and hunger, you may immediately get a picture in your mind of an elderly man sleeping in a cardboard box. You may even envision a place, such as a large city like Chicago or New York.

The reality is nothing like that picture, however. During this National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, it’s informative to examine what the true face of hunger and homelessness looks like, especially in our region.

The last homeless count for Allen, Huntington, Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties took place in January of this year. It revealed that homelessness does indeed exist here, not just in places such as Chicago and New York. It also showed that nearly 470 individuals are homeless at any point in time. Just about 35 of those individuals are chronically homeless, but most are people fighting to find permanent housing.

More recent numbers indicate that both hunger and homelessness are growing concerns in northeast Indiana. United Way’s 211 Call Center statistics show that requests for both food and shelter have increased 10 percent since this time last year. Associated Churches Food Bank has served almost 2,000 more people than at the same time last year; many of these people are using a food pantry for the first time.

Fort Wayne Community Schools has 173 students who are homeless; they are living in shelters, with friends or even in cars. Interfaith Hospitality Network turned away 40 families last month; Hope House has a waiting list of more than 20 women; and Vincent Village has a waiting list of almost 40 families. It’s clear that homelessness and hunger exist in our region, and these issues affect people from all walks of life – children, the elderly, veterans and those who have recently lost jobs.

Addressing the needs of the homeless, in particular, is tricky. Our community is filled with effective and caring providers such as the Rescue Mission, Hope House, Genesis House, Vincent Village and Interfaith Hospitality Network, yet we still have people without a roof over their heads.

The recently formed Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness is working hard to find innovative ways to address homelessness so local individuals can find permanent shelter and work to become self-sufficient. The Planning Council is comprised of dozens of agencies, as well as local government, and is working toward three main goals: reducing the number of homeless people, shortening the time that people are homeless and making sure enough resources exist to prevent these people from becoming homeless again.

The council is looking at the big picture, or everything that contributes to homelessness. Through collaboration and sharing of information, the members of the council are working to ensure that housing options are available and that individuals are connected to support services, such as job training or language assistance, so that they will not slip into homelessness again.

While the council, government leaders and social service agencies are working diligently to address homelessness and hunger in a collaborative manner, there are ways local residents can also be supportive.

By dialing the three simple numbers 211, you can find a food pantry close to you where you can donate much-needed food and personal care items. And anyone is welcome to attend a meeting of the Planning Council on Homelessness; you can learn more about the Council by calling me at 422-4776. Finally, monetary donations are always needed to support the shelters and services that are on the front lines. Donations can be made to United Way of Allen County by calling 422-4776 or to the agency of your choice; simply call 211 for the correct phone number. Together, we can help the individuals and families that are struggling to find permanent shelter.

Marcy Yoder is chair of the Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness and income and basic needs director for the United Way of Allen County. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.