The Persistent Problem of Homelessness
I used to wonder about the homeless people I saw living on the streets. In New York City, where I live, the homeless take refuge everywhere. They live in subways, sleeping on the plastic chairs and benches. They live on the grounds of Madison Square Park in sleeping bags. They live on the steps of churches, in the corners of buildings and beneath underpasses. They live at Port Authority and Penn Station.
I used to wonder because I didn’t know what to do. If I gave them money, would they spend it on drugs? Would they spend it on alcohol? How many quarters could they possibly collect by passing around a cup? Would enough change allow them to buy dinner? Would it even make a difference? Unless you’re heartless, sooner or later, after passing someone living on the streets, you begin to think like that. I still think like that, in fact.
Most people care, but no one knows what to do. Everyone’s busy trying to make their own ends meet. Aside from giving a little change here or there, it’s safe to say that the majority of citizens feel powerless to help. Yet the problem persists. And it’s not just New York.
Take a look at Cincinnati. According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, approximately 25,000 people experience homelessness each year. Some of the study’s statistics include:
- 12% of homeless women in Cincinnati are homeless as a result of domestic violence, the third highest reported cause of homelessness for women.
- 60% of homeless men and 45% of homeless women work (!)
- 60% of homeless men and 49% of homeless women are high school graduates; almost 5% of men and 4% of women have college degrees.
What these findings show is something many people are still painfully slow to understand: the problem is complex.
But the solutions don’t have to be.
What if there was suddenly a really easy way to connect the homeless to what they most need: a place to sleep, a way to find food, a means to get their hands on warm coats and clothing? Now, in Cincinnati, there is.
Street Reach Puts The Power, Not the Responsibility, in Your Hands– Literally.
Students from Northern Kentucky University worked in conjunction with Strategies to End Homelessness to make Street Reach, a free app and website based in Cincinnati that makes it very easy for the homeless to gain access to shelter, food, and clothing. And all you need is a mobile phone or computer.
While currently only available in The Queen City, it is so far nearly fool-proof in delivering results. Street Reach works when someone with a smartphone passes a homeless person on the street and then uses the app to connect to local partners like Strategies to End Homelessness, giving such outreach programs the location of the individual, and any identifying traits, so that they can come help.
That’s it. A couple of clicks.
As Kevin Finn, president and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, said, “People who use the app can ensure that homeless people they encounter get aid, especially as winter arrives.”
Street Reach Is Designed To Leave Their Dignity Intact
A disclaimer on the app emphasizes the importance of dignity for the homeless. It asks you not to approach the person and ask them why they are on the streets, for example. The disclaimer goes on to say that just the location and description of the person is enough to establish him or her a connection with “a trained professional outreach worker.”
The app includes a sidebar for users where you can find more information about Street Reach, an FAQ in case you need to remind yourself of proper protocol, and a way you can donate.
Street Reach is a game-changer. It allows an ordinary person to help homeless people reach their needs in the best manner possible: through the help of trained professionals. With just an app, you can save a person from having to sleep outside.
As Rachael Winters, a Northern Kentucky University social work lecturer put it,
“Street Reach is really for the individual who is on the sidewalk, out in the cold, could be exposed to hypothermia or could freeze to death. That’s what this app is for, to get those people off the street and into a shelter or housing.”
So our holiday wish this year is that Street Reach will evolve and be available in other cities around the country soon. This seems doable. As Winters said, “We believe that it could become a national model.”