As a member of the board of directors of New Hope Shelter, I want to share a few thoughts. Supporting people is a natural part of my life as an educator. I am surprised and concerned about the number of families in our community who face hunger or homelessness. I learned meals at school were the main source of food for many children. I appreciate those who provided food to send home on the weekend and those who developed a summer meal program. Eating is a basic need and yet we have many children and adults who struggle to fill a need so many of us take for granted.
I eventually found my way to New Hope Shelter. I have met wonderful people through this work and my understanding of homelessness has changed dramatically. Let’s start with a few statistics. In Kansas, last month there were 429 people identified as homeless in shelters; 268 of those people were under age 18. Although the number does not sound huge, remember those are people who have sought help. That number does not reflect the people living in their cars, under bridges, or living doubled up with family or friends. There are many who do not seek assistance, but just survive any way they can. It might surprise you to know that in this country 1.2 million K-12 students are homeless. Consider the following reasons most people assume causes homelessness:
Unemployment-“People are too lazy to work!”
Sadly, there are 4.8 percent of the US labor force unemployed, underemployed or simply discouraged and do not seek employment. Even with a job paying minimum wage or less than full time hours, many cannot afford to rent a place. Surprisingly, many unemployed people do have homes and some who stay in a shelter do have low wage jobs. Why you ask? People who suffer addictions, have mental health crises, split from partners remained housed because they have resources that provide a safety net. They have personal savings to survive; there is health insurance, disability insurance or even rehab coverage. (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
There are some hard facts about money to remember: The average American family savings account balance is $4,220; 24.3 percent of American families have no savings at all; only 39 percent are certain they could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose next month; 13 percent have no health insurance; 7.7 percent do not have a bank account of any kind.
(sources: Federal Reserve, US Census Bureau, Internal Revenue Service, FINRA)
Then you hear someone say, there goes someone else on welfare! Welfare ended in 1996. The Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was passed when Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it.” What about TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) exits and food stamps? Both are helpful but both have many restrictions in the amount of time the help is available and how destitute you have to be to qualify. That is true for all government programs.
No one wants to be homeless, but it happens, often for inescapable reasons. New Hope is there to help, with compassion and purpose. Things have changed. While not going into lengthy specifics, know New Hope is not simply filling a need but also helping people to find a way out of their situation. There are many stories of success. There is now a 90 day program that requires participates to do chores to keep the shelter operating, required classes to learn about how make needed changes, and a required savings if employed. Connections and support are formulated and people leave, taking that learning and living differently. As the saying goes, feed a man a fish and take care of him for a day, but teach a man to fish and take care of him for life. New Hope does deliver Hope, but we rely on the assistance of our communities to serve Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties. It seems every year at this time our coffers are nearly bare as we struggle to find money. But we have experienced December miracles as donations come rolling in to allow us to continue this important work. We pray again for this miracle to continue the work we believe Christ wants done: Matthew 25: 34-40 …For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me…
Consider making a donation to help others in our communities; the need is real; the successes are joyful; your assistance will make a difference!
— Victoria Adame is principal of an alternative school at Prairie View and a member of the local homeless shelter board.