Photo by Jo. C

It is quite possible that wherever one may walk in the city one may be greeted by a homeless person, or in actuality, one is given an opportunity to help someone in need. This does not necessarily mean giving someone a dollar and then checking off the good deed of the day, but it can mean that together we are called to live as those who serve and develop long-term relationships. Homelessness in New York City will take collective human action to eradicate.

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According to the Coalition for the Homeless, as of November 2014, there were 60,352 homeless people in New York City. To be more detailed, there are 3,262 single homeless women and 9,064 single homeless men. Additionally, there are 25,630 homeless kids in families and 22,386 homeless adults in families. Of those families, 14,519 of them will sleep in homeless shelters tonight.

There are many reasons for homelessness, such as unfortunate circumstances, personal bad choices, or perhaps an economic situation that had nothing do with them. So, how could we know with just one interaction? Whatever the cause, should we not feel some sort of responsibility to help those in need?

New York City homelessness has reached its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the primary cause of homelessness, specifically among families, is lack of affordable housing. The Coalition explains, “Surveys of homeless families have identified the following major immediate, triggering causes of homelessness: eviction; doubled-up or severely overcrowded housing; domestic violence; job loss; and hazardous housing conditions.” Other studies show that a majority of homeless in New York live with mental illness or other severe health problems. The Coalition states, “African-American and Latino New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Approximately 57 percent of New York City homeless shelter residents are African-American, 31 percent are Latino, 8 percent are white, 1 percent are Asian-American, and 4 percent are of unknown race/ethnicity.”

What do we do? Below are several organizations that you can join and support.

The Coalition for the Homeless is the oldest advocacy and direct service organization for the homeless in the nation. They believe that “affordable housing, sufficient food and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society.” Since the Coalition’s start in 1981, the organization has helped the homeless through litigation, public education and direct services.” In a single day, their eleven frontline programs help more than 3,500 people in need.

Does this sound like something you would like to be a part of? There are many ways you can volunteer. The Coalition needs volunteers in numerous programs including the Grand Central Food Program, the First Step Job Training Program, Shelter Monitoring, Camp Homeward Bound and in many Emergency Drives. Click here for more information.

The Bowery Mission has served homeless New Yorkers since 1879. It is a results-oriented organization that is seen as one of the city’s most effective institutions. The Mission is “led to minister in New York City to men, women, and children caught in the cycles of poverty, hopelessness and dependencies of many kinds, and to see their lives transformed to hope, joy, lasting productivity and eternal life through the power of Jesus Christ.” The goal is to be “the most effective provider of compassionate care and life transformation for hurting people in New York City.”

Individuals can volunteer through the Mission’s medical clinic, by tutoring men, by mentoring youth and through special skills and projects, all of which are further explained here. There are also opportunities for groups to volunteer together.

The mission of the Doe Fund is “to develop and implement cost-effective, holistic programs that meet the needs of a diverse population working to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction, and criminal recidivism.” All of the Fund’s programs and business ventures strive to help the homeless achieve permanent self-sufficiency. The organization serves more than 1,000 individuals in a day through programs such as the Ready, Willing and Able Program, which provides the homeless with “transitional work and housing, case management, life skills, educational assistance, occupational training, job readiness, and graduate services.” Other programs include a Veterans Program, and affordable and supporting housing programs.

The Fund needs both corporate and individual volunteers to assist with different opportunities including mock interviews, tutoring, mentoring and suit and laptop drives. To sign up, please click here.

Jerry and Maria McAuley founded the New York City Rescue Mission in 1872. It exists to “provide help and hope to the hungry, homeless and hurting men and women of New York City.” The Mission’s foundation is hope, its spirit is love, its character is excellence and its attitude is community. Some of the programs include a Recovery Program, a Career and Learning Center, an Emergency Shelter, a Soup Kitchen and Food Panty, a Clothing Closet and a Medical Clinic and Social Services.

Over 3,000 volunteers help annually in many ways including serving meals, providing medical services, and tutoring residents in the Learning Center. Fill out the Volunteer Application form by clicking here. The Mission also needs help in its Church Outreach department with conducting weeknight services in the chapel for the growth of the guests.

City Harvest was founded in 1982 as the world’s first food rescue organization. Its mission is to end hunger in all communities in New York City through food rescue and distribution, education, and other practical, innovative solutions. The organization is “dedicated to helping feed the more than 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger. City Harvest will collect 50 million pounds of excess food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries, manufacturers, and farms, and deliver it free of charge to more than 500 community food programs across the city this year.” Additionally, City Harvest “takes a long-term approach to fighting hunger by partnering with residents, local organizations and businesses through Healthy Neighborhoods programs which increase the availability of affordable fruits and vegetables in low-income communities and provide the nutrition education and resources to maintain a wholesome, food-secure diet.”

Volunteers are needed in a variety of departments including Mobile Markets, Greenmarket Rescues, Repack Assistant, Office/Special Skills, Nutrition Education, Special Events, Food Drives and with Service Learning Opportunities. More information can be found here. There are also many opportunities for corporate and group volunteering.

If anything, may this article help us to start thinking and talking about this very real problem.

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