Editor's note: This is one in a series of op-ed columns from members of the Alliance for Human Services, a group of 50 local nonprofits helping people thrive.
As we are all aware, the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on everyone. One of the greatest is in housing, which has ripple effects throughout Fort Wayne and Allen County.
While COVID-19 has brought thoughts of housing and homelessness to the front burner for many people, this topic has been front and center for us in the social services community for many years. Most of our clients and those we typically serve find themselves disproportionately affected often in ways others are not.
In the Salvation Army, almost all of the men, women and children coming through our doors have been homeless or are a month or two away from homelessness. We and other agencies in Allen County seek to prevent this harsh reality but are not always successful.
Myriad reasons contribute to this, but homelessness is not limited to the clientele of the Salvation Army and other social service agencies.
An example is the staggering number of evictions that happen annually. According to a 2016 Eviction Lab report, Fort Wayne ranked 13th in evictions among large cities in the United States, ahead of Indianapolis, South Bend and Detroit.
In a perfect world, a rent or mortgage payment would be at most a third of someone's monthly income. For a family of four with two children in child care, the household income would need to be around $65,000.
Across the housing metrics for families in Allen County, 34% of families are not meeting this threshold. This means roughly one out of every three Allen County residents experiences problems regarding their housing, its stability or their ability simply to secure shelter.
The rising cost of rent, combined with a failure of hourly wages to keep up with the cost of living, puts more Allen County Hoosiers at risk of falling into this level of insecurity.
Even though the housing issues may not affect many of us, they should cause us to pay attention.
First and foremost, these are our (literal) neighbors. These are the people with whom we work and play, go to church or hang out at the park. Loving them well is a high but worthy calling for us to pursue.
The phrase “quality of life” has become more popular in recent years. For the one third of people who are housing-insecure, looking outside ourselves and our sphere and acknowledging ourselves with their quality of life makes our lives as well as theirs better.
The concept of Hoosier Hospitality has been on display in my short time here. I am eager to step up to the challenge of hospitably concerning myself with the homeless and those with housing insecurities, stepping into an era where we are known more for our recognition of such people than the stain of our housing evictions record. Are you?
Kenyon Sivels is the corps officer of the Salvation Army and a member of Alliance for Human Services.