Lawson: Homeless need our help to recover from hardship, prosper in new lives

Angelica Lawson

We undeniably have an ever-growing homeless population problem in this country. By that I mean there are too many men, women and children who do not have a place to call home. It’s time we make changes to our policies and public services so we can decrease the homeless population in the Unites States.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January 2014, 578,424 people experienced homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of those people, 216,197 were in families, and 362,163 were individuals. About 15 percent of the homeless population — 84,291 — are considered “chronically homeless” individuals, and approximately 9 percent of homeless people — 49,933 — are veterans.   

Thankfully, individuals are attempting to make changes to these overwhelming issues. Lava Mae from San Francisco, Calif., started a mobile shower non-profit. Mae converts old buses into portable showers for the homeless community in San Francisco in hopes of improving their quality of life. Mae calls the service “radical hospitality.”They get to to know the people who use the resource, they listen to their stories, and that is enough to make a person feel like a person again.

Collide, a non-profit shelter in New York City serves the homeless and their pets. Many pet owners consider their pets as family and consider providing for their pets as a priority. This holds true in the homeless community as well. Many homeless shelters have a strict “no animal” policy, but hopefully, more organizations such as Collide will recognize the value pets have in people’s lives and realize that they also need care. 

Collide provides the animal and its owner with important life-sustaining services. Vaccination, licensing and spay and neuter services are available for pets. Food is also provided for the pet and its owner.

Homelessness has touched our own community as well. An annual fundraiser in Des Moines called Reggie’s Sleepout was created to help youth who age out of the foster care system during their transition into adulthood. Reggie Kelsey, the inspiration for the sleepout, aged out of the foster care system, and with no resources to turn to, was found three months later in the Des Moines river.

Drake Stadium hosts youth from across Des Moines one night every fall. The youth sleep outside and are only allowed to bring a box, pop tent or sleeping bag to experience what so many others experience on a nightly basis. The event raises awareness and money to help transitioning youth.

One life that is lost to homelessness is one too many. There is no reason that this should be a reality in today’s society.

What is the solution? There is no single way to end this societal epidemic, but we can try. We first need to get more affordable housing projects approved and built in areas that have higher homeless rates.

We also need to remember the people who have fallen into poverty and homelessness. Remembering kids who have aged out of the system and veterans who make up almost 9 percent of the homeless population will give us something to work against. We need to create more public service outlets for these individuals and lobby for more funding for organizations that support this mission.

The men, women and children who are homeless in our country and community need a helping hand. We can be this helping hand by building affordable housing, creating job training or employer-incentive programs to hire a homeless people and changing the criteria of food assistance programs. There are many ways to provide a step up in life without just giving a handout.