When you think of the holiday season, you probably think of Christmas presents and sales and discounts at your favorite store. With a shifting focus towards the rampant materialism of the holiday season, it is easy to forget that there are many who are missing even the bare essentials; that, beyond the glossy window displays and the Black Friday mania, there are many who don’t know where or when they will receive their next meal.
The realities of homelessness in the United States are staggering, and they aren’t getting any better. According to an article by NPR, “Between 2007 and 2009, family homelessness rose nearly 30 percent.” Another statistic by NBC describes America as a country where “2.5 million kids- one in 30- were homeless at some point last year.” These numbers are disturbing, and it stresses the growing problem of homelessness in the United States.
The facts are even more concerning when the negative effects of long-term homelessness are considered — homelessness can deter people from spending money locally, and therefore can result in the loss of substantial profits from local businesses and state revenue. According to a report from the Economic Forensics & Analytics firm, homelessness causes businesses across Petaluma, California to lose over $20.6 million annually, resulting in the loss of approximately 124 workers. There would be a $1.66 million state and local revenue decline. The firm reaches this conclusion with its “one-percent loss algorithm”, in which it equates the presence of the homeless as a one-percent tax, on the local businesses. This tax is seen as “a cost of doing business due to a societal choice”, a result of homelessness “[interfering] with foot traffic and potential customers.”
And as the holidays draw nearer, the weather gets colder, creating increasingly difficult conditions for those on the street. Although many wish for a white Christmas, this would be detrimental for anyone who doesn’t have an indoor shelter. “Hypothermia sets in when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees, something that can occur even in 50-degree weather” (Covert.) For this reason, many homeless shelters are overfilled during the winter months, and it can lead to overcrowding or people being turned away. Many shelters lack the resources to care for the surge of people that appear during the holiday season, leaving few options for those left without shelter or food.
So how can we help? There are many things that we can do to help to provide for those homeless, and ensure that they are not forgotten during the impending month of festivities. There are numerous local and national organizations aimed at supporting the homeless, with both food and shelter. One of these organizations, Feeding America, is a large non-profit that operates more than 200 food banks across the country. For every $1 donated, Feeding America is able to provide food for 11 people who are in need of a meal. Additionally, there are many local institutions closer to home that could use both monetary and voluntary assistance this season. The Family Promise of Bergen County operates out of Ridgewood, and they run programs to shelter both children and adults. They also help to entertain children while assisting adults to become self sufficient. They offer volunteer positions as well as opportunities to donate to their cause.
This holiday season, remember to spread generosity to those who need it the most, and try to contribute in any way possible. It may not sound as enticing as the new iPhone or a day spent at the mall, but what better way to destress from the pressure of the school year then to give back to your community? As Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Graphics: Jessica Chang