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Who are they?
Back in the 1960's many of us observed that most homeless people seemed to be white, male and in their fifties. They were often stereotyped as drunkards and drug addicts who needed a meal, shower, shave and a night's rest in a temporary shelter. It seemed that no one stayed in a shelter longer than one or two days. That was the perception and the norm.
Families With Kids
But, today's picture of homeless shelter residents is radically different. 41% are now families with children (NCH July 2009). Our Grants Pass men's shelter houses around 60 men while our home for women takes in approximately 35 women plus up to 25 children at any given time.
How are people categorized as homeless? The most obvious homeless people are those who are sleeping outside in the open, those who bundle up in a car, or those who find a room in an abandoned building. The next category includes those who are already staying in emergency shelters. HUD also includes people who sleep in transitional housing for the homeless in their definition of "homelessness". Finally, the broadest definition includes those who are doubled up with relatives and friends.
Economic Recession Plus Rising Rents
The reasons people become homeless vary. Since 2009 the economic recession has become extremely difficult. Many who lost their homes and jobs lived off of savings. Or they plundered their retirement accounts to survive in those first lean years. But, now those funds are gone and they are scrambling to find part time let alone full time jobs. But, good jobs are scarce and competition is draconian.
Oregon's minimum wage is only $8.95 per hour. Several studies show that wages should be around $9.42 an hour to support a single adult, or $19.57 for an adult and child in order to cover basic needs. That goes up to $24.27 to support an adult with two children. According to one study a two bedroom apartment in Portland cost $912. That's 64% of a full-time worker's wages. Plus, housing is thought to be affordable if the cost of rent and utilities (only) are no more than 30% of income (2013 Point-In-Time Count of Homelessness in Portland/Multnomah County, Oregon).
Where Do They Sleep?
So where do these homeless persons or families sleep? Some sleep on the street or sidewalk. Others park themselves in a doorway. Many find shelter under a bridge or overpass or by a railroad. Many others consider themselves lucky if they can sleep in their own car, truck or camper. Some individuals sleep out in the woods or open spaces. Some try to camp in city parks. Others find shelter in abandoned buildings. There are even tent cities springing up outside of major metropolitan areas where people use camping gear or other means to set up temporary shelter.
Disabled and Infirm
Sadly, many homeless folk are disabled or sick - many cities say that at least half of their homeless populations suffer with disabilities. Many have mental health problems, battle alcohol or drug abuse, become hooked on prescription pain medications, are physically disabled, have a developmental disability, suffer from HIV/AIDS conditions or other chronic health problems.
Tragically, a large number of homeless women come from abusive families. The father or husband may be an alcoholic who becomes violent when he is drunk. Battered women are at risk and may seek shelter in a rescue mission when safe houses are unavailable.
Wise As Serpents&Innocent As Doves
These are all tragic homeless conditions where churches and communities must learn to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We must reach out to those who need our aid. Yet, we should not enable addictive or manipulative behaviors. Our aim is to help those who want to improve their lives. When Jesus healed people he often told them to "go and sin no more" (John 5:1-15; 8:3-11). He reached out in love to help people out of their misery. But, he expected them to change their lives in response.
At the Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission we want to be good stewards of your donations, time and the Lord's provisions. We welcome your help in serving the poor. Perhaps you could send a monthly contribution or a one-time gift. Maybe you could help baby-sit our toddlers as their moms attend chapel. Maybe you would enjoy teaching bible classes to our men, women or children. Perhaps you could help us with office duties, mailings or kitchen duties.
Our GRM staff is friendly and enthusiastic and looks forward to meeting you. Please give us a call at (541) 476-0082 or write to Gospel Rescue Mission Grants Pass, PO BOX 190, Grants Pass, OR 97528-0015.
"If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD - and he will repay you!" (Proverbs 19:17).
2013 Point-In-Time Count of Homelessness in Portland/Multnomah County, Oregon. Presented to Portland Housing Bureau. portlandoregon.gov.
Minorities and Homelessness. 2009. National Coalition for the Homeless. nationalhomeless.org.
Phelan, Jo C. and Bruce G. Link. 1999. Who are the "homeless"? American Journal of Public Health. September 1999, Vol. 89, No. 9.
Valorie Emilio works with and teaches women at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as the Executive Director. She holds an MA in History from UCLA while Ken received the MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.
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