Homelessness a major issue

By Daina Havens
November 3, 2006

I pulled up to the Rescue Mission in Atlantic City one morning to meet with a once-homeless family that I covered in an article I was writing. I, along with the housing locator at the mission, pulled up on a back-city street and parked in front of a three-bedroom apartment sandwiched between and under three other apartments in the building complex.

Seven kids, ranging from 2 to 12-years-old, share the three bedrooms with their 27-year-old mother who was abandoned by the children’s father in Camden, N.J. a few years ago. The smiles on the kids faces as we all played on the sidewalk showed just how much a few people with a passion to help others and a few programs at a rescue mission could forever stabilize and change the lives of an entire family.

Homelessness is a reality. I always knew about it, read about it and saw documentaries on TV of people trying to collect money to heal the world, but that was never enough to hit home.

Growing up, I volunteered here and there and gained a passionate respect for the topic. I was fortunate enough to write an article at my summer internship for The Press of Atlantic City about the ongoing war against it in Southern New Jersey. Reading my article on the front page of the Region section invoked an urge to share some deep-rooted feelings.

That lady carrying her life in those bags that you watch as your car passes by has a story. Those kids you may remember from grammar school with the holes in their clothes likely grew up worrying how their mom would be able to afford some dinner that night.

According to 2000 U.S. census data from www.philadelphia.areaconnect.com, approximately 54,731 people, or 3.61 percent of the Philadelphia population, is without a place to call home.

There is no escaping it. However, as a result of the devastating hardships the homeless must struggle through, so many outlets have been constructed to reverse the suffering and begin the healing process.

“Homelessness represents a downward spiraling from marginal living to poverty and often hopelessness,” Vice President of Specialized Health Services at Philadelphia Health Management Corporation Elaine Fox said. In the 21 years that this corporation has been in existence, Fox said there has never been a homeless person encountered that only needed a place to live. “What we have found is that people have more needs once they are living independently; a house or apartment simply isn’t enough,” Fox said.

This non-profit public health corporation has carried out many programs for the city of Philadelphia since 1985 and has helped the homeless to acquire job skills, get treatment for chronic illnesses and help the individuals, families and especially children find a sense of stability; much like the Rescue Mission that I wrote about for The Press of Atlantic City.

Director of the Homeless Services Division at Horizon House David Dunbeck said that the services at Horizon House help lead the homeless to many types of recovery on their journey to stabilization. “Recovery can include gaining a sense of meaning to life, a positive self-image, being able to form meaningful relationships and recognition of the gifts and lessons learned through the recovery struggle,” Dunbeck said.

There is so much that we can do to help! Volunteering at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Kensington, Philadelphia provided an eye-opening experience to maintaining the fragile dignity of the homeless and the hungry. This particular soup kitchen is unique in the way that volunteers seat the guests at tables set for four. The guests are served in a small restaurant setting and are given the simple pleasures that they are all too often denied; rest, relaxation and a few minutes to feel the warmth of family, companionship and a meal made and served with love.

At the North West Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, cooking dinner with fellow volunteers was the average task of any volunteer, but sitting down to a meal with those that temporarily find shelter and stability there and piecing together puzzles sprawled out on the floor with the children after dinner were the types of experience that gives life a greater meaning.

It hurts so much when I hear people talking about how homelessness is a choice. Everyone that is human has made mistakes in their lives. Some were born with mental illness and without a family capable of helping. Addictions have taken over the sense of many.

Some families were once stable, but natural disasters crushed, burned or flooded their dreams and left them with nothing. Far too many babies were brought into this world innocent and helpless and at the mercy of the streets.

As 2006 co-chair of the hunger and homelessness awareness campaign at Cabrini, I cherish the ability to reach readers with my words, and strive to inspire you to join me at the campus events during the week of Nov. 5. Every little bit helps, and every prayer counts.

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Daina Havens

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