What has America gotten itself into? Just about every state and every city is cutting back funding to services needed by those who need it most.
In Chicago, the headline read Temperatures Dropping. Will the State Restore Funding for Homeless Shelters? It goes on to report that the 2012 budget was cut 52 percent for homeless prevention services. This cut is on top of the fact that more people were turned away from homeless shelters in Chicago last year than were taken in.
In Wilkes-Barre, PA., it was reported this week that Funding Cuts Continue to Hamper Women's Shelter, citing a 20 percent cut in funding from federal, state, county and city sources. In Ardmore, OK reported last week that overcrowded homeless shelters are forced to leave some out in the cold. This tragedy is happening from big cities to small town America. Then, on top of all this bad news, USA Today reports that military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans.
What is causing this disaster? Obviously, the down economy and the housing crisis forced numerous families out of their homes and into the streets. During the summer, they can live out of their cars, but as winter settles in, sleeping outside or in your car is not an option anymore. Over 15 percent of people nationwide are living in poverty.
As more people become poor, more people become increasingly at risk for homelessness. Add to this the shrinking availability of real affordable housing and you have a classic case of Economics 101 where there is an increase in demand for shelters and a decrease in supply because of all the funding cut backs.
Our homeless population is not only made up of those caught in these troubling economic times caused by losing their jobs and their homes. It is made up of victims of domestic violence; people suffering from physical illness or mental illness; people addicted to drugs and alcohol; kids caught up in the transition from youth into adulthood; and people who have exhausted their personal relationships the same way other people exhaust their financial resources.
The kind and caring people involved in these shelters are not heartless. When they run out of beds, they let people and their children sleep on the floor. So donations of pillows and blankets are always needed.
What can the average person and business do to help in this situation? Obviously you can donate money or much needed supplies to your local shelter. My company, www.dollardays.com is giving away a total of $5,000 in supplies to 13 different homeless shelters in a sweepstakes on our Facebook page. Make sure you enter your local shelter into this.
You can also volunteer in your local shelter to help with the food serving or keeping it clean or becoming a friendly face to comfort those in need. Your business can organize your employees to give back to their community & schedule days or weeks where they help out the local shelters. If you see homeless people in need, offer them a coat or food. Direct acts of kindness are what this country is built on, and for those who can spare a coat, it is the right thing to do.
This economic calamity we have backed ourselves into is not going away tomorrow. Neither is the crisis that has forced so many people to give up their lives and rely on others for help. Winter is coming and we just can't let Americans who pledge allegiance to the same flag as we do suffer without having the basic need of shelter.
Don't let this suffering continue in your town. Since our government can't afford to help our fellow man, you do it. Volunteer and give something back, give some cash and give some clothing to your local shelter. We, as Americans, who have kindness and caring built into the fabric of our society, can make a difference.
Marc Joseph is the author of The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart! and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.