I awakened long before dawn this morning. Rain pounded the roof with a furious staccato. I rolled over and thought about my horses in the pasture. "They're getting hammered," I thought, and regretted they weren't in the barn. The still, small voice in my heart said, "What about the homeless people?"
I felt ashamed that my first thought was for horses and not people. My horses shelter in a thick patch of trees, but what do homeless people do in the rain? Do they hunker under a bridge and hope to stay dry? Do they have a tarp to cover them? How do they keep their possessions dry?
The problem of homelessness is not limited to urban areas. Even in rural Mississippi, homelessness exists. "PIT Count" is a count of homeless people on a single night, or one "point in time."
The most recent HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report reveals some troubling facts:
- On a single night, 553,742 people were homeless in the U.S.
- 35% of the more than 1/2 million homeless were unsheltered.
- More than 40,000 of those homeless were unaccompanied youth.
- Another 40,000+ were homeless veterans.
- 184,661 of the homeless were families with children.
- For every 10,000 people in the U.S., 17 are homeless.
- The unsheltered homeless are more likely to be white males.
- The number of unsheltered homeless accounted for the entire increase in homeless between 2016-2017.
- The number of homeless people in Mississippi is 1,472, 59 of whom are unaccompanied youth.
- 719 (nearly half) of the homeless in Mississippi are unsheltered.
- Between 2007 and 2017, Mississippi had a 42% increase in homeless children.
People are homeless for a variety of reasons, including substance abuse, mental illness, joblessness, and the breakup of the family unit. Many, but not all, can find temporary or transitional shelter. For those with prior felonies, it's not so easy.
The unsheltered homeless literally do not have a roof over their heads. They sleep under bridges, in alleyways, in the woods, and, if they're fortunate, in makeshift shacks.
Nearly 194,000 Americans do not have a roof over their heads at night.
More than 700 Mississippians do not have a roof over their heads at night.
What can we do?
1. Partner with organizations that provide shelter for the homeless. My personal favorite locally is the Salvation Army. If you're in an urban area, there are likely others. Check them out and support them.
2. Volunteer. Shelters need everything from help with cooking and serving to assistance with organizing donated supplies.
3. Give. Warm blankets, coats, and clothing in good repair are always needed.
4. Pray. Ask God for laborers in this field, but start by asking what He wants you to do.
One of my favorite acts of service is to help with the Saturday lunch at the Salvation Army. I never see a more grateful group of people. I seldom fail to see a miracle. I spend a few hours preparing food and serving but I'm rewarded with blessings I savor for months to come.
Locally, you can also contact Helping Hands Helping Homeless for ways to serve. They have a closed Facebook Page and a Go Fund Me account. They're a non-profit organization and they can use your help.
One day, we will give an account for how we cared for "the least of these." We must not do nothing.
And the King will answer and say to them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did it to Me." Matthew 25:40