Friday, March 2, 2012

Homelessness a Bigger Issue Than Many Realize


Recently I was perusing a social networking site and came across a picture that was posted by one of the sites users. This picture depicted several men sleeping in the lobby of the Macon County Law Enforcement Center. The subject of the picture was nothing I had not come across before but the caption in reference to the picture caught me a little off guard. The photographer essentially stated his surprise by the lobby being utilized as a resting place for those without homes. Being the director of Homeward Bound, a housing program for the homeless in Macon County and the chair of a homeless advisory council I thought the issues concerning the homeless was being adequately spread in this community. Unfortunately, the photog’s statement and the subsequent comments of others have made me realize that there is much more that needs accomplished.

In 1998 the Macon County Continuum of Care’s (CoC) Homeless Council (currently the Homeless Advisory Council or HAC) began conducting Point-in-Time counts. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires each CoC’s to gather data about the homeless population within its communities. This data is used to get a snapshot of the number and characteristics of the homeless in different communities during a specific point in time. Initially these counts were conducted bi-annually but beginning in 2012 HUD requires they be conducted annually.

HAC (the working group for the Macon County CoC) has conducted them annually since 2007 because as a community-driven entity the group wanted to keep the community accurately informed about homeless issues. In conjunction with conducting the count, HAC hosted a community breakfast where the numbers of the count were released to the public. Additionally, during this breakfast issues of homelessness were discussed, other programs presented information about ongoing projects, guest speakers shared innovative ideas and/or inspirational stories and political forums have even been held.

The Macon County CoC is a great collaborative group that has developed several projects to assist the homeless in this community. However, seeing that photo and reading that caption and comment has opened my eyes a little wider to the need for greater awareness efforts. The Continuum of Care was created as a way to bring together those concerned about the issue of homelessness in hopes of enacting change. The “bubble” that we have surrounded ourselves with appears to have done the complete opposite of its original intent. We are spreading the word quite loudly within our circle but apparently only creating a whisper outside the circumference.

As I mentioned, the HAC hosts an annual breakfast and this year, my hope as the Chair of the HAC, is that new faces will grace the tables. I am asking that you not only show up but that you invite one person who does not know about the Continuum of Care or the depth of the issue of homelessness in this community. Invite them so that they might learn that nearly 43% of those homeless persons counted during the 2011 point-in-time were children (under 18). Invite them so that they might learn what changes are taking place locally, statewide and nationally to address this and other issues affecting our community and its homeless individuals, families and children. Invite them so that they might join us in securing decent, safe and affordable housing not only those who were captured in that photograph but also for the many more who weren’t. Invite them so that they can join the rest of us in the movement toward ZERO for future point-in-time counts in this community.

The Homeless Advisory Council Community Breakfast will take place on Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:00 a.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 901 N. Main, Decatur, IL. Please RSVP to Homeward Bound, 217-362-7700 by no later than Thursday, March 15, 2012. If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Homeward Bound office.


Darsonya Switzer
Homeward Bound Program Director

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