Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rate of homeless children increases 131 percent

Think for a moment about being homeless.

And not just you, I mean your entire family, including the children. Where would you guys all go during the day, to get out of the heat? Wander in and out of stores? Where is your family sleeping for the night? The shelters won't open until at least 6 p.m.

And three meals a day? Well, the line at St. Vincent dePaul is wrapped around the building everyday. I've driven by and seen it. And past that, what about drinks? Snacks for the kids?

The children need to go to school. Will they understand having to bathe and dress every day at the Salvation Army? Or the YMCA? Where are their school clothes and supplies coming from?

What if you get sick? What if they get sick?

And being homeless carries a stigma: people look at you and your family and think, Lazy. Drunk. Stupid. Disease-ridden. Not in my backyard.

Think it's impossible? Let me provide you with some scary numbers: the Pinellas County Coalition just released its annual head count for the area's homeless, and the number of children has doubled in two years. It has gone from 96 children under 18 in 2007 to 2,224 this year. That's an increase of over 130 percent.

I want to repeat that last figure, because it sounds vaguely important: Over 2,200 kids right now in Pinellas County have no home.

Why? Officials of course blame the economy. More families are homeless than ever. For some people in the Tampa Bay area, it's as close as one missed paycheck. When the breadwinner gets laid off, often these families are on the streets within 30 days. Shelters, food pantries and donation services can't keep up; their resources are strained. Simply put, need is up at an exponential rate, monetary donations are down. The coffers are almost dry.

Also drawing on those resources is the large, intangible group of working poor, the ones that don't get a head count every year. Without help from soup kitchens and places that provide donated clothing and household items, they're looking at that 30 days real quick. Survival becomes minute to minute.

So what do we do? What can we do? Where does relief start? Individual donations? Leaning on our politicians? Legislation? I read quite a bit of speculation, but no clear answer.

Maybe it starts here at home. Shopping locally and keeping our money in the area, making sure our local businesses thrive. Giving what we can when we can, and helping out by donating gently used things to services that get them in the hands of people that need them. There has never been a better time than now.

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