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Commentary: Chronic homelessness continues to be a plague

Commentary: Chronic homelessness continues to be a plague
January 25
04:10 2018

Recent frigid cold air combined with 6-10 inches of snow blanketing our community sent most residents scurrying inside for warmth, food, and overall safety.  For some of our brothers and sisters in the community, that option was unavailable – chronic homelessness continues to plague a large number of American cities.

Thankfully we have a multitude of churches, nonprofits and foundations focused on the issue and providing essential services.  Not to mention key providers such as Bethesda Center for the Homeless and Samaritan Ministries are critically important because they provide shelter to this disenfranchised community.  But more has to be done.

I grew up in a small “shotgun house” on Liberty Street in East Winston-Salem.  The block that I called home also provided a “home” for men that had no address of their own.  Homeless men peppered the corners that were less than 100 feet from my back porch.  We had very little in terms of money, food, and other “niceties” growing up in that tiny house. 

Although we had few resources to care for ourselves, I can vividly recall days when I would come home to witness my grandmother feeding these “corner guys” in our kitchen.  My natural reaction was to question my grandmother’s judgment and compassion.   She would always respond by reminding me that we could easily be in the same circumstance that had fallen upon these unfortunate men and women. 

My grandfather would chime in and echo that “all situations are temporary” and that each of us could simply be one choice away from being on the streets.  I had no way of realizing the powerful lesson that I was absorbing, but those acts of kindness and generosity with no expectation for anything in return sowed seeds of greatness into my spirit.  In that tiny house on Liberty Street, my grandparents helped me to understand the importance of human dignity in the world, and that all of us are entitled to basic resources – food, clothing and shelter.

Most are surprised when I share that America has the highest rate of poverty amongst the world’s richest countries, 45 million Americans live in poverty, including one in five children.  Sadly, families with children comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population today, 42 percent of homeless children are under the age of 6.

Unfortunately, many of us choose to ignore this growing epidemic in our country, or we mistakenly assume that chronic homelessness only affects those addicted to illegal substances and/or suffering from mental health illnesses.  Many of us have family and friends that have been homeless or close to living on the street, but we might not be aware of their testimony.  In fact, almost 60 percent of Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75. 

The idea that chronic homelessness is isolated to the “big cities” could not be further from the truth and the data shows that large and small communities suffer from a growing homeless population.  In Forsyth County, well over 2,000 people experience homelessness annually, not to mention over 1,000 families with children are recorded as being homeless in the state of North Carolina.  There is no city or county anywhere in the United States where a worker making the minimum wage can afford a fair market rate one-bedroom apartment.

We must discover more aggressive ways to combat this stubborn issue – fare free transit to improve mobility, increased access to health care, greater focus on workforce development initiatives, more compassion for mentally ill residents, programs that effectively address substance issues and most importantly funding to support the least of us.

United Way of Forsyth County will hold its annual Point-in-Time Count today, Thursday, Jan. 25, and I strongly encourage you to volunteer or donate supplies to the cause.  The Homeless Point-in-Time Count is a one-day, unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families in Forsyth County.  The count helps determine the extent of homelessness in our community. The data collected is used to plan services for the homeless throughout the year.

Algenon Cash is the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm, he is also a national spokesperson for the oil and natural gas industry.  Reach him at acash@nullwhartongladden.com.

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