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January 31, 2013

ANDERSON: Why serve? Who serves?

It was a gray and gloomy day. Typical wintry Monday. I had worked all weekend on this column. The phone rang at 4 p.m. and the entire thoughts about the column changed. The topic was to be about the history of homelessness and how it evolved. That will be next week. This column will be about why it is so important to serve the homeless and who serves them.

I answered the phone to a woman who could barely talk. She was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing. She was scared to death. She had been to one shelter and had been turned away. She had two children, 7-year-old twins. They had escaped violence and now had nothing but their clothing and their car, which was sitting on empty. When I told her I would make room she almost collapsed. She called back a few minutes later and a church had agreed to buy her gas so she could come. You could hear the relief in her voice. You could also hear the fear.

She and the hundreds like her are the why. Sometimes we forget to put the face to the message. It isn’t easy to live in a shelter; it’s even harder to live on the streets. People in our community, from our community do both every day. On any given night the shelter is full. Last year we served 819 unduplicated people at the shelter; we served 374 through outreach services to motels/hotels, cars, abandoned homes, etc. Twenty-seven more were served through transitional housing.  

Exit Zero has likewise served hundreds this year at the feeding site, which equates to thousands of meals.  In addition to the meals they served they advocated, they sought housing, they gathered clothing and goods and distributed them, and they went to bat for people. Tents were distributed because they were needed. We do not have enough of the right kind of housing to support all of the homeless.  

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