“people who do not fit the stereotype of homelessness are losing their homes.”

This past week I was asked to participate in, “A Night out with the Homeless.” To say this experience was eye opening is an understatement. Amongst other significant facts, I learned that there are 1,000 homeless people in the city I pastor in, Rocky Mount, NC. Even more alarming for me was learning that nearly 600 school-aged children arrive in classrooms each day in our local school systems that are homeless.

By its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100% accuracy. Studies suggest anywhere from one million to six million people are homeless in America with a large percentage of these being children. More important than knowing the precise number of people who experience homelessness is our progress in ending it.

As I conducted interviews alongside a local businesswoman, Jean Kitchin (Almand’s Drugs) and another Pastor, Bishop Shelton Daniel (Greater Joy Baptist Church), of the homeless that were present that evening I could not help but to be convicted as to how we as Christians don’t seem to feel the weight of caring for the people Jesus called, “the least of these.” It seems to me that we all have a responsibility to be better educated on the conditions, circumstances and plight of those both locally and globally who live in poverty. I was reminded how caring for the poor in our neighborhoods is an essential mission of the local church.

Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness. Locally, United Community Ministries and the Bassett Center under the leadership of Chris Battle brought this issue and this opportunity to us.

With the economic downturn, more and more people who do not fit the stereotype of homelessness are losing their homes. With the decrease in affordable housing and minimum wage not paralleling inflation, more people are fighting to survive and finding themselves below the poverty line. I know of no better way to fight poverty than with knowledge.

Consider these facts:

  • 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.

  • Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children.

  • Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.

  • 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.

  • In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.

  • More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger (Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3)

  • 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.

These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):

  • Mississippi (19.2%)

  • Texas (18.5%)

  • Arkansas (19.2%)

  • Alabama (17.4%)

  • Georgia (17.4%)

  • Florida (16.2%)

  • North Carolina (17.1%)

Admittedly, I am not an expert on hunger, homelessness or poverty. I do seek to help begin a meaningful dialogue around how we fix these issues. I recognize there are many reasons for a person being hungry or homeless. Statistically, we are told homelessness is, in fact, caused by tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes. Other impairments such as depression, untreated mental illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and physical disabilities are also responsible for a large portion of the homeless. So, clearly this is a broad and complicated issue. Here are some of my thoughts on how we can help.

Educate. Business owners and elected officials can meet with the leadership of your local homeless shelter to become better educated on this issue and how you can specifically help.

Accommodate. Make low-income housing available. According to the United States Conference on Mayors the most commonly cited cause of homelessness for persons in families were lack of affordable housing.

Participate. When food drives and food challenges are given in your community participate. Most of us have extra food in our freezers, cupboards and pantries. When your coupon allows you to buy one and get one free, give the “free” item to a person or family in need.

Cooperate. Financially give support to shelters. Churches can do this with a special offering or individuals can just privately donate or donate through the mission fund of your local congregation.

Communicate. Discuss this with your family. Too often our conversations around the dinner table lack depth. For many families, conversation has been replaced with television watching or texting. Once per month, identifying a pertinent issue to discuss. Generally the calendar will make it easy as most social issues in our society now have a week or a month of national focus. Let a part of that conversation be a family resolution on what you specifically will do.

These thanksgivings as we indulge at home, take a moment to remember that not everyone will have food or shelter. Many people in your city will have their name placed on a waiting list to eat a hot meal or sleep in a warm and safe place. Could they be waiting on you?

What are your thoughts on the issue of homelessness and hunger?

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