Homelessness: How Can We Help?
By Parliament Staff
Homelessness remains a pressing issue in America. According to the most recent data available, at least 100 million people around the globe are considered homeless. More than 3.5 million people residing in the United States are homeless and 25% are under the age of 18. Whereas homelessness is rooted in poverty in countries like India, Nigeria, and France, the U.S. has seen an increase in homelessness due to a variety of factors. They include – but are not limited to – veterans returning from armed conflict overseas, the 2007 housing crisis which left thousands of families without homes, and those suffering from mental illness without access to housing and necessary treatment.
Homeless prevention legislation in America has yielded mixed results. Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart halted foreclosure-based evictions during the winter of 2008 to protect rent-paying tenants, consequently compounding problems by making lenders less likely to extend loan payments to the most vulnerable.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, an alternative method was employed. The city provided its chronically homeless individuals with housing and counseling, saving the state an average of $8,000 per homeless person. By utilizing this program model, homelessness in Salt Lake decreased by 72% between 2005 to 2014.
In other states, some governments are criminalizing the homeless by passing reactive legislation. The cost of enforcing the criminalization of homelessness costs more than housing the homeless. The practice spars public outcry because it is ultimately worsening the situation. This is why community groups and interfaith leaders are stepping in to help fill the gaps.
Interfaith groups have provided social services to assist the homeless through food banks and food drives, soup kitchens, shelters, and even counseling and rehabilitation. In order to address the issue proactively, interfaith groups are now also working to prevent homelessness. An interfaith group in St. Petersburg, Florida is finally able to launch a rotating shelter for homeless families after establishing the program within the last several years. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, community leaders held a forum between the homeless community and residents that want to help them. By opening the dialogue in this manner, both homeless advocates and those they serve have a voice.
Without discussion and brainstorming, problems like homelessness cannot be successfully addressed. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs donated $3 million to Interfaith Community Services to further the organization’s mission of erasing veteran homelessness. Right now, an Interfaith Resource Center is planning the construction of a year-round overnight shelter for the homeless in Columbia, Missouri. Additionally, a couple in Athens, Georgia is hosting a week of fun activities and learning opportunities to help raise funds for Interfaith Hospitality Network Athens, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless.
Helping the homeless remains a major priority for faith communities. Although homelessness may continue to be a problem in the future, the call to “live compassionately,” as Karen Armstrong says, means one should remain uncomfortable so long as his or her fellow brother or sister is suffering. Interfaith cooperation can achieve a sharp reduction in homelessness if communities continue to think and act together. All faith traditions are called to serve the needy in their doctrines and teachings. Presently, tracking homelessness remains a challenge for agencies and governments. But with the assistance of faith communities’ cooperation, effective and innovative models for eradicating homelessness can be implemented.
Parliament interns Shani Belshaw, Nafia Khan, and Daniel Wolff contributed to this article.