The issue of homelessness is one that many of us hold near. We see people holding signs, humbly proclaiming hunger and homelessness. Walking up to Safeway for a morning coffee and bagel, I see a woman huddled on the bench trying to sleep. Knowing very little about this woman, except that she is in the depths of poverty, the thought of being able to help seems far out of reach. Sure, I can get two coffees and bagels that day to share with a new friend, but can I offer this person real hope? Can I open my door to this stranger? Can I provide her a living wage?
When real solutions seem hopeless, many of us, overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue at hand, simply shut down. We turn our eyes; quietly shrugging any responsibility that may befall us.
For SERVE volunteer Sherry Keeler-Hull, this issue of homelessness once caused her to step down from her position as an intake volunteer. “The need was so great with no solution available,” she explained. Soon after her resignation, she realized how key her role was in serving the community. She quickly returned to her position as an intake volunteer. When she did, she made it a point to really engage those who were experiencing homelessness. She asked them questions about why they were facing homelessness and what brought them to this point. The answers she received were thoughtful and surprising. Honest responses have the ability to open our minds and broaden perspective on the struggle faced by many of those experiencing homelessness.
Anything that causes us to think twice, or more carefully consider the life and situation of someone in need, is good. Anything that reminds us that the person behind the cardboard sign is someone with a past and a future seeking to be recognized and understood; anything that causes us to humanize another,
makes us more human as well.
Homelessness is not going away, which makes our response to it even more important.
So where do we begin? Let's take a look at three things that have been happening in our midst to help educate us on the current picture of homelessness and efforts to mitigate it.
1. Warming Center:
This winter the Grant County Homeless Task Force moved forward to open an Extreme Weather Warming Center for those experiencing homelessness. The warming center was open during January and February- the coldest months. It was held in the old Boys & Girls Club building on Third Ave in downtown Moses Lake. It was open daily from 8pm - 6am. There were no beds, but there was food and warm beverages available for those who came. Area churches provided the volunteer staff, food and clean-up crew. With an average nightly attendance of over 15 people, it is apparent that the center filled a gap in local homeless assistance. The warming center was well used and as Sherry optimistically expressed, “I am not sure how this is helping them (the homeless) in the long-term, but they are being loved and getting warmed up.”
2. Sleep-On-The-Street (SOTS) Event:
Moses Lake's first ever SOTS Event was a huge success! The event was held to raise awareness and funding for homeless services, mainly, the new Warming Center. Thursday, January 21st community members came out to hold signs at the corner of Stratford and Valley Roads to draw people's attention to the issues of homelessness. The group accepted donations to support the warming center and enable it to run again in 2017. Additionally, 4 Moses Lake men- Tim Cloyd (Serve Moses Lake), Dave Ruffin (MLPD Chief of Police), Dave Balcom (MLSD), and Mike Alvarado (Sendero Life Center)- slept outside that night in cardboard boxes, again, as a way to raise awareness to the situation. The event raised over $6,000 and received broad coverage from local news sources. Tim Cloyd acknowledges the event's ability "to show the community that we are taking this issue seriously." (Take a moment to watch the iFiber news segment covering the event! Video at the end of the blog)
Though the men spent the night outdoors, Tim acknowledges that it only gives him a very small taste of the daily reality for those experiencing homelessness. Going into the evening he knew that it was only one night of discomfort and poor sleep; he was not alone; he did not have to be concerned about personal safety; he did not experience the hopelessness that so many do when homeless. For him, Lamentations 3:21-33 took on a special meaning. The verses dwell on the hope that we have in the Lord, and ends by saying, "For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow."
3. The Annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count:
On Thursday, January 28, 2016 the Grant County Homeless Task Force conducted the PIT count. This count is federally mandated to happen at this specific time in January and is a requirement of the funding that is given to our county to aid homelessness. The purpose of the count is to get a picture of the number of people experiencing homelessness in our county. The count is conducted by trained volunteers going out to look for people as well as service agencies reporting in about persons they work with whom they know to be homeless. In conjunction with the count, there is an event called Project Homeless Connect held at Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church in Moses Lake. Anyone who is found to be facing homelessness is encouraged to attend the event where they are offered a warm meal, haircut, shower, clothing and other donations, as well as access to various service agencies (including housing assistance). The data from the count clearly shows that homelessness is not just a harsh reality for a few single men and women in our area; of the 135 unsheltered individuals counted this year, 38 were children. This year's count results are as follows:
Interested in becoming part of the solution?
Contact Tim Cloyd (Director of Serve Moses Lake and member of the Grant County Homeless Taskforce) by calling (509) 764-8276 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.