Community not immune to homelessness

Danni Simms | Staff Writer

On any given night, 750,000 people are homeless across the United States according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). In order to be considered homeless, the Stewart B. McKinney Act said that one must not have an adequate place to sleep every night or one must reside in temporary housing (a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations).According to the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, 12,190 people are homeless in Ohio. A woman named Trish said she has been homeless for fourteen years, after tragedy struck her family.

“My husband died and I had to pay for his funeral,” Trish said. “[Afterwards], I was broke and then I lost everything. [Now], I’m [homeless].”

According to the NCH, “from 1999 through 2008, in 263 cities and in 46 states there have been 880 acts of violence committed by housed individuals.” Trish said that as a homeless person, she is subjected to prejudice and harassment.

“There’s no race [in being homeless],” Trish said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Chinese, African or anything; if you’re homeless and people don’t like that, they don’t like you. You’re lower than a second class citizen, and that’s a sad thing.”

Darlene Robinson is the director of a homeless shelter, the Bethany House, and said she has dedicated her career to help people in the same situation as Trish.

“The Bethany House services [provide] emergency shelter,” Robinson said. “Homeless women and children, two-parent families and men with children [are housed]. I primarily [maintain] the budget and the grant writing [in order to] make sure that the staff has what they need and the women have what they need.”

Robinson said her personal experience with homelessness led her to the position of director at the shelter.

“I’ve been employed with Bethany for 19 years,” Robinson said. “I got involved when I was a homeless woman, [and] I started volunteering while I was still homeless. Once I got an apartment, I continued to volunteer, and then they had a [job] available. [Since] I was in college while I was homeless, they offered me the position. I’ve gotten three promotions, and now I’m the shelter director.”

According to Robinson, the first few days of being homeless are the most difficult.

“The first couple of days [after becoming homeless] are the hardest, because [people] don’t really know what to expect,” Robinson said. “It’s a new environment, a new way of living, and things aren’t familiar. It’s [like] being put in a room with blinders on, and you don’t know where anything is and you’ve got to have someone guide you on the way.”

Robinson said that in the Bethany House’s newsletter published in January, a young child explained what it was like entering into a shelter.

“Last month’s newsletter was really interesting, because a ten year old [described] coming through the shelter,” Robinson said. “For her, sleeping in the top bunk for the first time and being in a room with other people after being an only child [was awkward]. She had never shared a room with anybody, let alone another adult, another child and her mom.”

According to CinciHomeless.org, in “the last 15 years, the homeless population [in Ohio] has increased 150 percent, [and] 60 percent of homeless men in Cincinnati work at least part-time.” Robinson said that the rise in homelessness can partially be attributed to two key factors.

“Lack of affordable housing and lack of livable-waged jobs [ are the main causes of homelessness],” Robinson said. “People are ending up homeless because of not having proper funds to keep utilities on, and a few have been displaced because landlords are getting foreclosed on.”

Robinson said that one of the only ways to decrease the levels of homelessness includes correcting these two factors.

“More affordable housing and more jobs is what it’s all about,” Robinson said. “The Bethany House gets women that have jobs and can’t afford an apartment because it’s too much, or the rent might be manageable but the gas and the electric with the rent is not something that they can [pay for].”

On a national level, according to the NCH, there are other factors that contribute largely to homelessness. The NCH said that one out of every three homeless men has served in the Armed Forces. Another major source of homelessness is mental illness, which affects 16 percent of the homeless population.

Some Mason High School students, such as senior Nicki Perry, are volunteering at homeless shelters and, according to Perry, broadening their perspectives.

Perry volunteered at The Outlet in Cincinnati, where homeless people receive food and participate in recreational activities such as board and card games, serving coffee and hot chocolate.

According to Perry, these opportunities to help should be taken advantage of, because homeless people are worth the time and the effort.

“You really should care about other people in the neighborhood and the community,” Perry said. “The [homeless] are all important. They all have stories and they all have lives. And the reason that they’re poor is not always their fault. Sometimes they just need that help up.”

According to Robinson, a very important way one can help homeless people and shelters is through monetary donations.

“One of the issues that [the Bethany House is] dealing with is just trying to balance the budget,” Robinson said. “Some federal funds have dried up, and we’re always striving to be able to help women to pay their rent and pay their deposits and get bills paid. [We also have to pay our own bills and electric [at the shelter], and the gas and electric here runs somewhere around $800 to 900 a month. So, [I’m] constantly trying to make sure that we can make ends meet so that we can keep the doors open.”

Robinson said that volunteering is also a great way to help, and that the experience reveals to the volunteer that homelessness is not always in a person’s control.

“[It cannot be] assumed that because someone is in a homeless shelter they’re lazy, don’t want to work [or] they don’t have skills,” Robinson said. “The average age of a homeless person in Cincinnati is six. Recently, a woman that was [staying at the Bethany House] retired from the post office after 26 years of service, but she still ended up here.”

According to Trish, people do not understand how hard it is to get a job or to find a way out of being homeless.

“Everybody’s like, ‘Get a job,’” Trish said. “Well, how can I get a job without an address? [People say], ‘McDonald’s is hiring,’ [but] I don’t have identification. In order to get [an] ID, I have to go downtown. I have to have $8.50 to do that. Do you realize how hard it is to come up with $8.50 out here? You’re lucky if you get a $1.50 a day. You’re lucky if you get drop offs, or anything.”

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