On January 27, an excited group of community partners, trained the week prior, met at the Spencer Road Library in St. Charles. Volunteers were placed into groups, given a map, and sent out into their respective territories. Across the country, thousands of volunteers mobilize on this day in their own communities, participating in the Point in Time Count to assess the homeless population in the United States. These efforts help update local agencies and policy makers, and inform the public about current needs in their community.
Our team headed out that morning, equipped with our map, informational cards and care kits containing food, drinks, socks and hats. In our group, there were two United Way staff, a retired nurse of oncology and a young woman (“B”) who works for United Way-supported Youth in Need, an agency that serves homeless youth.
All of us have our personal reasons for wanting to volunteer, but B’s story is an amazing one. A few years ago, at the age of 23, she found herself homeless with her infant son after leaving an abusive relationship. Successfully navigating many challenges, she now works as an Outreach Coordinator for Youth in Need and plans to attend law school at Washington University this fall. This is not just a job or a project to B, this is her success story. Her narrative is an amazing one and demonstrates the strength of our community to come together to help one another.
Our team trekked through the O’Fallon, Missouri area on foot and by car, looking for individuals in need of shelter. Conversations with park department employees and police officers enlightened us to those living in makeshift shelters in the area. At the public library we were told that individuals arrive during the day, seeking respite from the cold. One person works nights nearby and comes to the library every day. The Salvation Army reports receiving approximately 25 calls a day inquiring about their shelter. In St. Charles County, homelessness is not perceived as a problem. It is here, often right under our noses.
According to data from United Way 2-1-1, a free, confidential hotline available to anyone looking for help, nearly 23 percent of all calls received in St. Charles County are for housing or shelter. The Point in Time Count identified approximately 1,000 homeless individuals in 2015. While the traditional makeshift shelters used by the homeless are still prevalent (e.g. vacant buildings, under bridges, in the woods); the face of homelessness is also changing. More young adults do not have a steady home, but instead “couch surf” with friends and relatives. Over 400 of those identified as homeless in 2015 were children and/or students. The fastest growing segment of the homeless population is individuals and families with adults aged 18-24. These trends are being documented through the Point in Time Count as well as agency research, in an effort to better understand and help the changing demographic.
Known as the hidden homeless, this population needs our support more than ever. If you are interested in volunteering in our community, please visit STLVolunteer. If you know someone who is homeless or needs assistance, please call United Way 2-1-1 (1-800-427-4626).
“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” –Wallace Stegner