Imagine not knowing where your next meal will come from or where you will sleep tonight.
Picture working full-time, but not earning enough to qualify for housing on your own. Your name is on the list for subsidized housing, but there are 150 families ahead of you. You have applied for every income-based housing complex within 50 miles but it will be at least a year before there is an opening. One night in a hotel would cost half of your paycheck for the entire week.
Your family and friends want to help, but are struggling themselves. Out of options, you walk into the woods at a local park to find shelter, with only your sleeping bag and backpack that carries all of your belongings.
In the morning, you search for a place to clean up before work, probably a public restroom. You stop at the Salvation Army for a hot meal, since you have no heat source to cook, and visit a local food pantry for assistance in the interim. You try to save what little money you can to afford a roof over your head and yearn for a secure place of your own. You dream of going to college or technical school which would help you get a better job, but right now every dime you have is used to simply survive.
The harsh reality of living on the streets turns some to alcohol or drugs in an effort to numb the pain. For others, mental illness becomes amplified and too often goes untreated. Sleep, wherever it can be found, provides but a brief respite from the daily fears and suffering of surviving another day unsheltered.
Imagine what it would be like to have NO place to call home, NO place to take a hot shower, and NO place to simply rest your head at night.
Homelessness in America is on the rise. Lack of affordable housing, insufficient wages, mental and physical illness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, disaster, death of a spouse, and gaps in programs and services that provide access to health care all contribute to homelessness.
Since 1981, Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service has embraced those most vulnerable in St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties. With a mission to serve those in crisis and to prevent homelessness and hunger, the Care Service provides assistance to those in need and helps build connections with the community to overcome the cycle of poverty.
Locally unique in its ability to address both short-term and long-term homelessness and hunger issues, the Care Service has seen countless families and individuals succeed at stabilizing their crisis situations and work their way back to self-reliance. Comprehensive, integrated services including financial housing and utility assistance, home repairs, emergency housing, transitional housing, weekly food pantry, individualized employment preparation assistance and in-depth case management all contribute to client success and systemic change. In addition, the Care Service provides street outreach to those who are living unsheltered in our community and acts as a first-responder in times of disaster.
In an area of the state that is considered amongst the most affluent, there is a grave misperception that homelessness and hunger do not exist here. Sadly, there are close to 60,000 individuals going to bed hungry in our tri-county area, one-third of whom are children. 33,000 individuals in our area live in poverty. As a charity of last resort, those who work, volunteer and support the Care Service can attest to the pain that poverty causes for so many of our residents. Nothing is more heart-breaking than to have to turn away a human being in need, let alone a child, because of the lack of funding or the capacity to serve them. Yet, that is the reality we all must face.
While our community and local resource agencies have worked together to minimize, and even lessen, known cases of homelessness, the trend in poverty rates in our country continues to increase, along with population size and the cost of living.
Thanks to the generous support of area businesses and individuals as well as funding from local, state and federal government, the Care Service assists approximately 2,000 of the poorest households in our area each year, representing about 6,000 individuals. This is a testament to the caring community in which we are so fortunate to live.
Regardless, there remain thousands of families and individuals who are one paycheck, one crisis away from becoming homeless. Continued decreases in mainstream government benefits for low-income families further limit assistance available for nutrition, housing and access to health care.
Is our community ready? Will poverty change the landscape of our community? How will we address these issues so we are not raising yet another generation in poverty?
As you view these photographs, keep in mind that our exhibit does not reflect the full spectrum of those we serve – the children, the elderly, the veterans, the abused, and the ill. We are thankful to those courageous few who have stepped forward to help us shed public light on the conditions in which the homeless live. Many however, to protect their welfare and the welfare of their families, choose to remain hidden as they work toward a better future.
We must come together as a family to find solutions that will impact systemic change and create a better, sustainable future for our community. If you CAN help, please do.