The National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2012, reported 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. It is often assumed that West Virginia has very little or no homelessness at all; that homelessness is an urban issue and not a rural one. Nothing could be further from the truth. In January of 2013, 1,623 persons were in shelter on one night, and 622 people were on the street. Of those, 23% of the people in Emergency Shelter on a given night were families, and 15% of the persons in Transitional Housing were families. Of the total persons in some type of shelter on a given night in January, 250 (15%) were chronically homeless (have a disability and were on the street for a year or more, or four or more incidences of homelessness in 3 years), 292 (18%) were veterans, and 336 (20%) were children. Of the 622 persons on the street in January 2013, 122 (20%) were in households with children, 182 (29%) people were chronically homeless, and 37 (.5%) people were veterans. Homelessness is, unfortunately, alive and well in West Virginia.
Our work, at the WV Coalition to End Homelessness is, as you might have guessed, is to end homelessness in our state. Many organizations have “end homelessness” in their title, and we realize that this is a tall order, but we view it as a completely possible and realistic task. Right now, there is over $15M in resources (federal, state, and private) allocated toward the issue of homelessness in West Virginia. Yet, we continue to see empty beds and people dying on the streets. We must do, as a state and a society, much better at tearing down the imaginary walls of territory and bureaucracy, and work together to end homelessness.
We must commit ourselves to the integration of systems and resources to efficiently provide housing and services. We must commit ourselves to the prioritization and housing of persons most likely to die on the street. We must commit ourselves to tearing down the rules, policies, and prejudices that keep people from successfully accessing housing. We must commit ourselves to ensuring that no child, veteran, or family enters homelessness in the first place. But commitment alone is not enough to end homelessness in West Virginia. This is where our organization comes in.
At the Coalition are focusing on communities. Communities can take the responsibility of ending the homelessness of their neighbors. We can provide the tools to arm communities with strategies to do so. We bind service providers, state agencies, businesses, and concerned people together to work toward solutions to homelessness. But we cannot do this alone. We need you. We need fresh ideas, monetary support, volunteerism, and input from everyone in West Virginia. Only as a community can we end homelessness in West Virginia for good. Please contact us to let us know how you, your business, your church, or your agency is willing to help. There is a place at our table for everyone, and we welcome you to the fight against homelessness.