How you can end homelessness in our community

Last year, there were 3.5 million homeless people in the nation. And in Chester County, there are about 650 homeless, according to the latest Point in Time poll.

Want to know where you can find a homeless person locally to help out? Just visit Wal-Mart, or McDonalds, or even a church. They dont wear shirts proclaiming they are homeless. Many have children, jobs, and have the same goals, struggles and aspirations as anyone else in our community.

Surprisingly, many, many people in southern Chester County are just one catastrophe away from becoming homeless. It happens when people living paycheck to paycheck lose a job, or get sick, or become divorced, get hours cut or even have hours changed. And often, those on medication must choose between the medication or paying the rent.

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Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Although children represent 24 percent of the overall population, they make up 35 percent of people in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 16.1 million children in the U.S. live in poverty.

Consider this: An individual earning the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour must work 104 hours each week (or 2.6 full-time jobs) in order to afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Chester County.

Theres an initiative called Family Promise that wants to put an affiliate in southern Chester County, where there are no homeless shelters (HIS Mission is not formally recognized as a homeless shelter, although it takes in homeless individuals).

In a nutshell, Family Promise works like this: Thirteen host church congregations take turns housing homeless families, a day center is set up to serve a mixed population, often including single men who live on the streets, and a van is purchased to shuttle families from congregation to congregation. And its all staffed by volunteers, the lifeblood of the program. About 14 people can be aided by the program (three to four families) at any given time.

So far, just one local church has agreed to host. The West Grove area is being looked at as the site for the day center, and a reliable van must be purchased. So, theres still a long way to go.

But there are many caring people in our community dedicated to make this initiative work here. Last week, about 50 people attended a meeting at the Church of the Advent in Kennett Square to learn how they could help. Committees were set up, and work now is centered on getting non-profit status.

Representatives from Kennett Area Community Service, the southern Chester County United Way, and the Chester County Department of Community Development were in attendance. These officials are working on committees to make sure this program flies in southern Chester County.

This is not a handout. The program focuses on self-sufficiency and the turnaround time is about seven weeks. Individuals deemed dangerous, or with a criminal background that involves crimes against a child or drug or substance problems are not considered.

Take a look at just about any church on any given day, except on Sunday mornings. You will find an empty building. This could work, at a cost of about one-third that of a traditional shelter.

This will help to change the future of children, who often get put at a great disadvantage as a result of homelessness. It can work, but only if people care and get involved. If youre interested in helping, contact www.unitedwayscc.org.