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Thanksgiving is around the corner and it is going to be far different than any other Thanksgiving I have ever known. We come from a large family so we would have a schedule like this: To the shelter until noon; to my mom’s for just a light lunch; stop on the way to Don’s mom’s to see friends; and then to Don’s mom’s. Always busy and always full of family. We would usually get home by 7 that night, when we could spend some time with the kids, and the following day I would cook a Thanksgiving dinner for just our family. Lots of laughter, lots of fun, and lots of family. But at the end of the day, we were happy to be home.

The whole weekend would be family. For so many people I served over the years, it just wasn’t attainable. We encouraged many to go to family and they did for the holidays, but home wasn’t what it used to be for many. It hasn’t gotten any better. We have more homeless and disenfranchised on our streets than ever before. We need to ask why, and what are we going to do about it?

It will be one year ago that I left the shelter to work on homeless issues on a broader scale by advocating, challenging public policy, and trying to increase awareness while helping to build capacity for the homeless. It has been an interesting year. This Wednesday, I will be on a panel for a Congressional Committee on rural and small community homeless. The truth is all over the country cities our size are facing more homeless than ever before. As urban areas have grown more violent, with crowded and long waiting lists, people are fleeing to safer smaller streets, even those who have no home to go to. We see that every day in our community and in our surrounding communities as well.

In 2019, we served 2,736 unduplicated in a small nonprofit in Jeffersonville. Haven House was developed in 1985 with Duley Perrin and Community Action, I was the Community Services Director who oversaw the shelter operations. In 1996, we branched off and began our own operation and practice that even today continues to serve, although we no longer do mass shelter. Our focus wasn’t just sheltering but advocacy and permanent housing initiatives as well. After the closing of America’s Best in 2019, I knew more had to be done, so when Catalyst offered to step in, I was ready. It has been a professional lifetime for me. I wanted to and will continue to challenge systems that are counterproductive to the poor and disenfranchised. We have to do better.

The people I serve are not bad people, they are poor, they are sick, they are mentally ill, they are victims of domestic violence, and they are our neighbors. Many are the children of people you live next door to. In spite of it all the vast majority of those served are still very local people. Unfortunately, we live in a metro area and we have a challenge serving those from a small community and a large urban area. Jeffersonville is not a Community Development Block Grant site, New Albany is, but Clarksville isn’t, so we do not have access to our own federal dollars to deal with the issue. We are in the Louisville Statistical Metropolitan Area and while our numbers enhance their dollars, we cannot access those funds because we are part of the Chicago Region HUD 5 District and Louisville is part of the Atlanta Region. HUD dollars are not allowed to cross regions. So, the roughly 20 percent coming from Louisville and the street people coming daily from Louisville may come, but money to serve them doesn’t; we have to do better than that.

It will take real change for us to address homelessness. We will have to acknowledge the problem in a real way first; Develop a solid community-wide plan secondly; Work hard in partnership to serve and build for the population thirdly; and, finally, commit to dealing with the issue of the unhoused in a strong and compassionate way.

Regionally we need to seek the answer because we are so interconnected here. The Walking Bridge binds us to Louisville, and there is no real boundary between Clark and Floyd counties; you can travel seamlessly throughout the region and so can those with no home. Poverty is real here and we have to address it in a real way. No one deserves to live in the streets. A compassionate society deals with its issues in a real way, and this isn’t just an issue here, it is happening all over America. COVID has only worsened the situation as vulnerable people are constantly working to find a stable place to stay.

As we sit before our holiday meal we should give thanks for what we have and offer prayers for this country to be the country we think it can be, one of compassion, one of strength, and one of promise. Not just for those who are blessed to be housed, but for those who are living houseless.

Barbara Anderson is a local human rights activist. Contact her at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com.

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