Christmas was totally different this year. We didn’t have to rush out to yet one more house. The grandkids actually got to spend the day playing with their new gifts instead of rushing out to get more. Dinner was wonderful because I didn’t have to cook (my daughter did), and it was my first year in 37 years where the first part of my day wasn’t spent at the shelter. I thought it would feel odd. At least different. Instead, it felt like I was home.
As we left for my daughter’s, first Diane then Shara called. “Barb, it’s cold outside, really cold, can you go by the overpass and to the Dollar Tree; there are homeless guys there and they will freeze. Please, I am so worried,” they both said. So I went, then I convinced my husband to go to the Springdale United Methodist Church and the winter shelter. We got there just as the Coalition for the Homeless staff was arriving and setting up. They assured us they would be there.
My very patient husband took me back to the men outside and we tried to convince them in. I called Paul with Exit Zero and he agreed to talk the guy under the overpass into going in. He did because his belongings were gone when we went back for a third time. In all, five people on the street were helped by a myriad of people who just simply cared, all of them worried sick about someone freezing to death on our streets.
It is a possibility, as the pandemic moves even further into our community and the protection against eviction wains, we will see more and more people living in our streets. Families will join their ranks. I hope we begin discussions to avoid families on the street. I hope we address the issue as a humane community that wants to see no one forced to sleep outside. There are many who think some prefer to sleep outside, but they don’t. They simply have nowhere that serves their need as it is to them. In other words, one of those outside said, “I have 40 blankets. I won’t freeze but I can’t go in, I can’t.” I know him, I have served him, but I also know he is telling the truth, he really can’t go in. His fear of other people is real and he would be a nervous wreck.
I met with my staff person later and we passed out the gifts to 42 children who were adopted by Heartland Payment Systems (annually they help with Christmas) and Denise Ernstberger. Heartland supplied food and toys for all of the 42 children Haven House is currently working with through our Outreach program. They had a great Christmas because total strangers cared. Denise has always helped. Every year she would buy pajamas for the kids at the shelter. This year she bought pajamas for all the kids in the Outreach program. She likes the idea of the kids getting to be kids on Christmas morning, waking up in their PJs and opening presents.
Crystal Aubrey and her family adopted a family as well and provided Christmas presents and food for them. They do it every year, getting joy out of sharing Christmas. So while I wasn’t at the shelter this year at Christmas, I certainly was present with the families in need in our community. It took me back to the time when there was no shelter here.
I began my career in homelessness long before the shelter opened, so I have seen what it is like not to have a shelter for people to go to. The loss of the Domestic Violence shelter in New Albany is felt greatly. We have to support those who seek to shelter those who have no home. As you sit in your own home tonight and feel warm and secure (or at least as secure as one can feel with COVID raging) think about the parents who have no solid home and the stress they feel.
As the Stimulus Relief is signed now, we have many realities to face. The funds allocated to citizens will help but will not save many Americans from joining the ranks of the homeless. The eviction deadline is not adequate and $600 per adult is not going to touch the amount of rent/house payments behind for many. Mediation programs need to be established to help struggling landlords and their tenants.
Homeless programs are stretched beyond belief right now. Please contact your legislators to ask for emergency tenant protection relief and homebuyer assistance. Landlords need the help, your fellow citizens need the relief, and our community needs to be proactive. As the eviction moratorium comes closer the surge in families experiencing homelessness will be huge. We know that, as a country, we need to act with one voice — the voice of compassion.