Homelessness can be prevented

By Kristine Semptimphelter
October 5, 2011

A crack – cocaine dependency makes it difficult for 42 year-old Curtis Walker to keep a job, pay rent, or maintain stable relationships. Consequently, George—who also suffers from arthritis, heart problems, and seizures—has spent several years living on the streets. During these years, he has slept under park benches, covering himself with discarded newspapers to stay warm and hidden. On colder nights he might venture into an emergency shelter, which offered heat, but which also required him to engage in the “one-eyed sleep,” a state of half-alertness prompted by the fear of having one’s possessions stolen. George has also been severely beaten both in the shelters and in the city parks.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. No food or drink for days. No bedroom to keep your belongings. No bathroom to shower. No house to call home. These are human beings that live among us, in our town, cities and streets.

I was given the opportunity to visit homeless shelters in Philadelphia and volunteer my time and efforts to get to know these people for who they really are. These are not people who have chosen to live on the street. They have gone through tragedies such as loss of a family member, loss of a house or mental illness.

There is a solution for these men and women. The surrounding communities are a major factor in helping them overcome these hard times. Shelters such as Our Brother’s Place is an emergency shelter and supportive services for over 300 of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable homeless population. It provides shelter for 150 men each night as well as a day program for 200 men.

Another safe haven is Project Home.  The goal of Project Home is to empower people to break the cycle of homelessness, address the structural causes of poverty and attain their fullest potential as member of society. Their work is rooted in their conviction of the dignity of each people and the belief that all are entitled to decent, affordable housing and quality education, employment and healthcare. Project Home relies on the outreach of the community for their efforts and volunteers.

The misunderstanding about homelessness is that they are people who refuse to get a job. Homelessness looms even for those who have jobs. Every man, woman and child who has to lie his or her head down on a sidewalk is flesh and blood, has a mind, feelings, hopes and fears that are real. When you lose a job, or work long hours and still cant make ends meet, you not only lose your freedom, but you put yourself in danger of living in inclimate weather or the dangers of living on the street.

Despite the increase in homelessness, the public today does not seem to view it as a compelling social problem. In the 1980s and early 1990s, when fighting homelessness had become a popular cause, many cities built emergency shelters and supportive housing. But after Congress cut the budget for homeless services in the late 1990s, cities were not able to keep up with the requests for assistance.

An effective strategy to help the homeless is to get more shelters to provide supportive services for homeless individuals and families. A shelter such as Our Brother’s Place helps rebuild the individual and empowers them to break the cycle of homelessness. Giving them the basic skills such as learning how to read and write will encourage them to be able to live on their own. Skills such as learning how to prepare and write a resume could change a person’s life forever. The immediate results such as a smile on someone’s face is rewarding, but the long-term goal of preventing homelessness across the world is the greatest reward of all.

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Kristine Semptimphelter

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