This is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. Its no coincidence it falls the week prior to Thanksgiving. According to the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development, this is when most people consider what they are grateful for and donate time and resources to those less fortunate than themselves.
It is particularly informative to examine exactly what hunger and homelessness in our region look like. The last homeless count for Allen, Huntington, Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties took place in January. It revealed 558 individuals are homeless at any point in time. About 50 of those 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 Ways 2-1-1 Services statistics show requests for both food and shelter have increased 8 percent from 2011 to 2012. Associated Churches has served an increase of 6,500 more people this year at food banks than at the same point last year, and more than 460 families are using these services for the first time.
Fort Wayne Community Schools currently has 167 students who are homeless; they are living in shelters, with friends or even in cars. Interfaith Hospitality Network turned away more than 400 families since August. Hope House has a waiting list of 27 women, and Vincent Village has a waiting list of 45 families. Its clear that homelessness and hunger exist in our region, and 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 difficult. 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 food on their table or a roof over their head.
The Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness is working hard to address the issue of homelessness so local individuals can find permanent shelter and employment 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 people from becoming homeless again.
There are several events The Rescue Mission is hosting throughout the week, including a kickoff event on the Allen County Courthouse lawn on Tuesday; Tour and Learn event Wednesday at The Rescue Mission; Live a Night in Your Car: The Homeless Experience, partnering with IPFW and University of Saint Francis students on Thursday; and the Pastors Luncheon on Friday. If youd like to participate in any of these events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 426-7357.
There are also ways local residents can provide support.
By dialing 2-1-1, you can find a food pantry where you can donate much-needed food and personal-care items. Anyone is welcome to attend a meeting of the Planning Council on Homelessness; you can learn more about the Council by calling me at 469-4027. Finally, monetary donations are always needed to support shelters and services on the front lines. Donations can be made to United Way of Allen County by calling 422-4776, online at UnitedWayAllenCounty.org or to the agency of your choice; simply call 2-1-1 for the correct contact information. Together, we can help those struggling with hunger and homelessness.