On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were considered homeless, living on the street, in their cars, or in a homeless shelter. It’s easy to let the issue of homelessness in America slip into the background of our lives. Even if you live in a city where homelessness is a true epidemic, how many times have you walked past that person on the corner without dropping anything into their donation bucket or offering so much as a smile?
As much as we’d rather ignore the issue of homelessness plaguing our nation, the statistics don’t lie. The main reasons people become homeless are due to poverty and a lack of affordable housing. The lucky ones are able to find shelter for an extended amount of time and maybe even enter into a rehabilitation program where they are able to connect with employers and get back on their feet. The less fortunate ones, the 83,170 individuals (15% of the homeless population) considered to be chronically homeless, have a disability or have been homeless for a year or longer. These individuals often don’t seek out the help they need and may fit your more traditional image of homelessness of the person camped out on a park bench shivering under a mound of ratty old blankets in the dead of winter.
Luckily, there are a number of saints out there who are not immune to the suffering of the homeless, who see them as regular people and not an invisible nuisance. Many of these people can be found working at homeless shelters where they provide vital, life-saving services to the homeless population. All homeless shelters provide an essential service by offering a warm bed and respite from the harsh outdoors, but there are some all-star shelters around the country that go above and beyond, offering more than just a place to stay to the homeless people that come through their doors. Here are just a few of the ones that stand out:
N Street Village in Washington DC is so much more than just a homeless shelter. On its website, the shelter describes itself as “a community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C.” In addition to offering emergency services, the shelter realizes that homelessness is an ongoing struggle for most, so they take a holistic approach to homelessness and also address long-term needs through a variety of services including housing, income, employment, mental health, physical health, and addiction recovery. The shelter was awarded the Washington Post Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award, as well as several other awards. They’ve also hosted famous visitors such as the Dalai Lama and White House officials- celebrity chef Sunny Anderson even hosted a cooking class there and competed in Chopped to donate her winnings to the organization!
This shelter certainly lives up to its name! Its mission is to “provide an immediate response to basic human needs and promote pathways to self-sufficiency for Jefferson County residents and the homeless.” In addition to offering food, clothing, and shelter, The Action Center also offers programs to address the root of the problem and help residents obtain self-sufficiency. “We don’t want to just put a band-aid on issues,” the website states. “We want to get to the root of what is causing their financial instability, with the ultimate goal being self-sufficiency.”
In addition to having a sunny name and being located in sunny state of California, this shelter exudes optimism. “Sunnyvale Community Services is here for our neighbors in their time of need,” they state. They recognize that 96% of their clients have incomes under 200% of the poverty level, and 39% of the people they serve are children. To that end, their mission is not only to assist with the issue of homelessness, but to prevent it. They offer financial services and monthly food programs in addition to traditional services.
This Florida shelter offers a nurturing environment for residents to live up to their full potential. They are “committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness” by offering their residents job training, transitional work experiences, and employment opportunities. According to their website, they provided supportive housing to 337 men, women, and children in 2015 and 96 formerly-homeless people found employment through their training and education programs.
Pacific House, formerly known as Shelter for the Homeless, in Stamford, Connecticut is a men’s shelter with the mission to end homelessness in their community. They changed their name to reflect their aspirations that extend far beyond just providing food and shelter. In addition to providing overnight emergency shelter for homeless men in the region, the shelter is able to offer a variety of support services thanks to donations, such as social services, clinical services, and vocational services.
Founded in 1981, the Coalition for the Homeless is “the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women and children.” Much more than just a homeless shelter, they believe every New Yorker deserves a home and they treat affordable housing, substantial food, and the opportunity to work for a liveable wage to as basic human rights. Therefore, they implement strategies with the goal of ending mass homelessness in New York City. Programs offered include food, crisis services, housing, job training, youth programs, and advocacy.
If you go to the websites of any of these fine organizations (links provided), you can make a charitable contribution. If want to make a difference but don’t have the means to make a donation right now, then just take a little time to understand homelessness, and the next time you see a homeless person on the streets, don’t turn a blind eye.