The Press-Citizenpublished an article this week highlighting current statistics regarding the homelessness population here in Johnson County, Iowa.
The Shelter House reported that they housed 676 people between 11/01/13 and 10/31/14. 126 of those folks were children. 238 were women. 437 were men. One was a transgendered individual. 40% of Shelter House residents reported disabling conditions. 21% reported struggles with mental health symptoms. 15% reports substance abuse difficulties.
The Johnson County Crisis Center reported that 373 households reported homelessness at some point between 07/01/14 and 11/19/14. 243 of those individuals were children.
My biggest problem with the article is its emphasis that homeless people aren’t all single men without children or panhandlers. Or that unmet mental health and substance abuse struggles don’t significantly affect those who are homeless. It’s true that too many people are within a couple paychecks of becoming homeless and that the homeless includes families, children, the elderly, and veterans.
That said, I really worry about the men that I know who are homeless. There are fewer resources available to them. And there is really less societal concern or empathy for these particular individuals – as emphasized by that fact that each of these agencies is working hard to publicly de-emphasize the scope of homeless men out there.
I just got a call yesterday from a guy I know. I’ve helped him out in the past and hadn’t heard from him for several months. He thought of me yesterday and just wanted to check in.
It turns out that he got evicted from his apartment back in July. He is mentally ill and has chronic pain. Plus he has a criminal background and bad credit. All of these factors make it close to impossible for him to secure any source of employment. So now he’s living in an abandoned trailer just outside of Iowa City and struggling to keep warm. He’s aware of the agencies out there, but he’s just tired of jumping through the numerous hoops to access services out that that have provided temporary barebone supports for him in the past.
It’s not comfortable or safe. But it’s predictable. And the stress of figuring out how to keep warm and fed turned out to be less stressful than navigating the systemic barriers inherent within the social services system.
But I’m rambling a bit…
I think it’s important to know that homelessness surrounds us and it affects more people than we assume. It’s the veteran who experienced a long-term medical emergency. It’s the single mom who lost her low-wage job. It’s the single mom whose part-time low-wage job cannot sustain her ongoing rent payments. It’s the mentally ill woman whose poorly controlled symptoms has caused her to become evicted. It’s the 18-year-old who has been turned away by his dysfunctional parents and who is now couch-surfing.
Frankly, it could be any one of us if we experienced prolonged periods of unemployment and/or disability. This seriously keeps me awake at night when I think about it too much.