As temperatures have dropped well below freezing across most of the United States, social media has been flooded with images of families and friends snuggled together under blankets next to the fire. But families and individuals experiencing homelessness have been left out in the cold as their stories have remained unheard on social media. In truth, it’s hard for many of us to imagine what it would be like to spend our days and nights on the streets when just walking out to our mailbox calls for a heavy coat, hat and gloves.
United Housing Connections is a member of the Upstate Continuum of Care, which reported from their annual Point in Time Count that 1,317 Upstate individuals were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. While these numbers seem considerable, the true scope of homelessness in the Upstate is in fact much larger when we consider that this is a snapshot of data collected from a narrowly defined “homeless” population on a specific date in time. For example, there are many homeless individuals and families that go uncounted because they are temporarily living in hotels or doubled up with family. In reality, 4,700 individuals came through the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) in 2016. This number is considered closer to the true number of people experiencing homelessness because it is aggregated data based on those seeking services from homeless providers.
With snow historically falling in Charleston and temperatures for the Upstate predicted to be in the lower teens, where are those experiencing homelessness to go and what can we do to help? In Greenville County, which has the largest homeless population in the Upstate, there are several non-profits that United Housing Connections partners with who offer cold weather shelter beds for when temperatures drop below forty degrees.
The Miracle Hill Greenville Rescue Mission has 100 cold weather shelter beds (this is in addition to the 140 regular shelter beds) and the Shepherd’s Gate shelter in Greenville has 30 cold weather beds for women and 12 cold weather beds for children (that is in addition to the 56 regular shelter beds.) Miracle Hill also has cold weather shelter beds in Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties.
The Salvation Army of Greenville County has 25 cold weather shelter beds. This is in addition to the 143 regular shelter beds for men, women and children and also a substance-abuse rehabilitation program for men.
First, become an advocate for the homeless in our communities. The face of homelessness isn’t a panhandler or a bum. The face of homelessness is a son. It’s a daughter. It’s a veteran. It’s a young adult. It’s a mother. It’s a father. It’s us. As we begin to tell their stories, we change the face of homelessness.
Second, donate to organizations who serve the homeless. Monetary donations are used at the discretion of the organization to best serve the people who walk through their doors. If you would like to donate items, below is a suggested list collected from local organizations need:
You can also donate to the Upstate’s Point in Time Count, which gathers the data mentioned previously. While this data only provides a snapshot, it is vital in informing the public, organizations and policymakers at the local and national level on the makeup of our homeless populations and to track progress in ending homelessness. These numbers help in identifying gaps in services, planning future services, and securing funding for your local organizations. Below is a list of items that are collected to be given out as a small token of appreciation for participants’ time and information. Please drop off donations to United Housing Connections at 135 Edinburgh Ct, Greenville, SC 29607 by January 15th.
Third, you can always volunteer your time with the organizations mentioned here and many others who serve homeless populations. Below are a few of the many volunteering opportunities in Greenville County:
As a member of the Upstate Continuum of Care, United Housing Connections recognizes the importance of everyone in our community working together to make homelessness brief and rare. We don’t just provide the homeless their needs for the day. We provide the dignity of housing that is necessary for every person to follow the pathway of success. But without our partners, most of the people we serve would never make it through our front doors. As the temperatures drop, please consider helping an organization in your community that serves those who need shelter and help the most. And as always, provide them with a path to lasting housing by connecting them with United Housing Connections.
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