Want to End Homelessness? Start with Community

In recent years, homelessness has increasingly entered the forefront of the national conversation. Creeping up in major cities, metropolitan areas, and even small towns, homelessness, unlike most issues in our world, is one that we can actually see.

Homelessness often occupies our street corners, intersections, sidewalks, and benches. It dwells among us as the fearful outcome lurking behind every missed paycheck or overdue bill, behind every unexpected accident or loss interrupting work and life. It lies in wait at the rock bottom of addiction, hiding behind every bad decision. It cloaks itself in brokenness; broken relationships, broken trust, and in the brokenness of society itself. It's at the heart of loneliness, despair, and abandonment. And it always has a face and a name.

In fact, over half a million Americans are homeless on any given day; 17 out of 10,000 (“State of Homelessness: 2018”). And whether or not we know or see the 17 out of 10,000, homelessness is all around us. But how do we end it?

Whether or not we know or see the 17 out of 10,000, homelessness is all around us. But how do we end it?

When people think of homelessness, the definition that comes to mind is often plaintive; homelessness is simply a lack of permanent sustainable housing. And to an extent, that is true.

But homelessness is more than than simply lacking a consistent roof over one’s head. It is often the disconnect between an individual and society, between the person and their family, a barrier to security, and their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Homelessness narrows life to the scope of only pursuing one’s most basic needs for survival. Food, clothing, hygiene, protection against the elements, and safety are items constantly on the minds of the homeless. 

Naturally then, one would think that satisfying these needs by providing meals, clothing, showers, and a safe shelter would effectively solve homelessness. And in some cases it does. But homelessness is a problem often more complex than can be fixed by a simple meal and a bed. 

Shelter or not, the homeless do manage to survive. But while they remain homeless they will never thrive. Their best life possible is simply out of reach. 

At New Directions, we provide food, shelter, and safety, benefiting both homeless individuals and our community. Thanks to generous donors, community partners, and our work with other agencies committed to the homeless, day-in and day-out we meet the most basic needs of approximately 170 individuals.

Obviously, the homeless need food, a roof over their head and a bed, and the safety and amenities that a shelter can provide. But more than that, the homeless need relationship. 

They need advocacy. 

They need someone in their corner guiding them on the path forward.

They need someone with connections to vital resources providing them help, hope, and a way to achieve their best life possible. 

And although homelessness is a problem often caused by individual circumstances, its solution can only be found in community.

Although homelessness is a problem often caused by individual circumstances, its solution can only be found in community.

Our approach to ending homelessness is rooted in this idea. In most health, human and social service sectors, its called case management. Homelessness is traumatic event, and just like any physical trauma, most individuals can’t recover from their trauma alone. Case management and case managers are the support system that help the homeless address and overcome the underlying issues of their homelessness. 

Financial troubles, mental health issues, substance abuse, divorce, criminal charges, and disability, are just some of the underlying issues of homelessness that case managers work everyday to address. Every person in our shelter participates in some form of case management and the effects speak for themselves. 

Last fiscal year alone, 32 families, 215 adults and 70 children transitioned from our shelter to a permanent housing solution. 17 families, 160 adults and 29 children were reunited with family and other support systems, giving them a chance at their best life possible. 124 adults began a journey to overcoming addiction in various forms. Considering an estimated 699 people in Horry County are homeless on any given night, our organization is effectively serving a large majority of homeless, 598 to be exact, by providing more than just a bed and a meal. 

These positive outcomes, plus countless other “smaller” victories such as reinstated drivers’ licenses, employment, transportation, increased access to services, and improved quality of life, are all thanks to the dedicated coordination of our case management team.

The American Journal for Public Health found that Standard Case Management (i.e. what New Directions’ shelters provide) improved housing stability, reduced substance abuse, and helped remove employment barriers (“Effectiveness of Case Management for Homeless Persons: A Systematic Review”). We ourselves can attest to these findings as the housing, recovery, and employment of homeless persons are some of our primary prerogatives. And not only do homeless individuals experience the support from our case management community, but at large we connect with dozens of local agencies who provide services to the homeless, eliminating duplication of effort and providing comprehensive assistance to those who need it most. 

In the words of Mother Teresa, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest kind of poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty”.

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest kind of poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty” - Mother Teresa

Indeed, community is often what is desperately missing from the conversation on ending homelessness. And as the primary provider of shelter services in Horry County, we can attest to its effectiveness.

Want to end homelessness? Start with community. Start with advocacy. Start by supporting the organizations and agencies committed to providing a caring community for the homeless, those who connect them with resources and help them successfully reintegrate into society.

When you support New Directions, you’re providing advocacy for the homeless, accountability, and increased chances of improved housing stability, reduced substance abuse, and fewer employment barriers. But most of all, you’re providing a supportive community for the homeless made possible through the work of our dedicated case management team and support staff.

In life, we may experience our failures, tragedies, and mistakes alone, but rarely do we overcome them that way. Through the power of supportive community, ending homelessness can become a reality. We know, because here at New Directions, we see it happen everyday. 

#HomelessnessEndsWithMe #FromShelterToHopeToChange #NewDirections

References

Renée de Vet, MSc, Maurice J. A. van Luijtelaar, MSc, Sonja N. Brilleslijper-Kater, PhD, Wouter Vanderplasschen, PhD, Mariëlle D. Beijersbergen, PhD, and Judith R. L. M. Wolf, PhD. “Effectiveness of Case Management in Eliminating Homelessness: A Systematic Review”. American Journal of Public Health. 2013 October; 103(10): e13–e26.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780754/

State of Homelessness: 2018. National Alliance to End Homelessness. https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/