Reconsider the Face of Homelessness

November 15th-23rd is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. 

Homelessness is an issue dear to my heart. It is a societal issue that is complicated and misunderstood which makes it difficult to address due to stigmas and community misconceptions as well as a lack of resources and misdirected funding.

In my work as an Art Therapist and Mental Health Clinician as well as the founder of Whirled Tree Arts, I’ve been inspired to understand homelessness better and develop community interventions that may alleviate some of the challenges. In this work, I’ve found that an important step to ending homelessness is to give it a face…

success-story-photo

This is Najya and her daughter Sadai . They became homeless after Najya lost her job. High market rent drove the family to enter into Housing Families’ transitional shelter program. (photo courtesy of Housing Families, Inc. Learn more about Najya’s story here).

This is Lori. She and her family became homeless after her husband lost his job and then shortly after was diagnosed with a chronic illness.  Learn more about her story here. (Photo courtesy of COTS).

frank2.jpgThis is Frank. He is an artist and a veteran. You can learn more about his story and purchase his artwork at ArtLifting. (photo courtesy of ArtLifting).

The face of homelessness is the face of our neighbors.  Here in Burlington, Vermont, 78 families, including 127 children, have stayed in emergency shelter so far this year (facts drawn from the COTS website).  This doesn’t count the number of families who may be homeless but sleeping in vehicles, or staying at hotels or “couch surfing” at the homes of family and friends.

A lot of people I talk to don’t think of homelessness as a problem that affects families or children.  They often think of people who are homeless as being mentally ill or involved in criminal behavior. But as you can see from the faces and stories above, this isn’t the case.

If there is one thing I wish for each of you to do in acknowledgement of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness this week, it is to reconsider how you think of homelessness.

If you have a home take a moment to share your gratitude. Consider what you could do to offer support to someone who may have lost theirs even if it is as simple as a genuine kind smile directed at someone on the street.

If you do not have a home, remember your value.  You matter. Your story matters. You are part of the community and people care about you. You are a courageous survivor.  Have hope, persevere, connect, reach out–the bravest people are the ones who seek and receive help when they need it.

Learn more…these are the organizations that I know and love that support people in their struggle to secure and maintain housing while also honoring the dignity and worth of people going through hard times:

ArtLifting.comArtLifting empowers homeless, disabled, and other disadvantaged individuals through the celebration and sale of their artwork.

Housingfamilies.orgHousing Families, Inc., located in Malden, MA, works to end family homelessness and support families in maintaining permanent housing through providing safe, temporary shelter and affordable housing to homeless and at-risk families.

COTSThe Committee on Temporary Shelter provides emergency shelter, services, and housing for people who are homeless or marginally housed in Vermont.

ANEW PlaceThis is an organization based in Burlington, Vermont whose aim  is to provide a holistic continuum of services for the homeless, centered in love and dignity, that foster growth, cultivate community engagement, and provide tools for lifelong change.

Share your story! Do you know of an organization that is doing great work?  Have you overcome hardship? What helped? Please share! I love hearing about inspiring people, places and things in communities near and far. We are all in this world together.

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