YOU MAY not realize there are people without homes living in Bedford County. They may be people who sleep in their cars or “couch surf ” (going from friend to friend and sleeping on their couch); people sleeping outside; people living in motels. Homelessness is a complex challenge and the City of Shelbyville is dedicated to working on real solutions.
The City Council has created a task force called HOPE (Helping Our People Engage) to address homelessness in Shelbyville. There are three clear direc- tions the committee is taking: 1) Look at the homeless challenges in our community. 2) Determine the root causes of homelessness. 3) Propose possible solutions.
According to City Manager Josh Ray, one key to fully understanding a person’s needs is to meet them where they are at and understand their circumstances. It is important that people be ap- proached with dignity and understanding that ev- eryone’s situation is unique. There can be a great deal of fear and shame around being homeless and that sometimes prevents people from getting the help they need.
Many households are one or two unexpected bills away from financial ruin. Needing to repair a broken-down car to drive to a minimum wage job can create a no-win situation of needing to decide what bill not to pay.
According to Shelbyville Councilperson Stephanie Isaacs, and HOPE founding member, “We can’t just pre- tend not to see the problem of homelessness. We want to grow and homelessness is prevalent in Shelbyville.” There are challenges in this region regarding access to good-paying jobs, affordable housing, and mental health care. She wants to empower people and encourage all of us to lift each other up. There are many resources already in the community working to alleviate challenges. The blessing boxes that are cropping up around town are one example. Food pantries, soup kitchens, the Community Clinic, and the United Way’s 211 Program are other ex- amples of services available to help people.
If we can approach people without judging them, they will be more open to admitting they need help. Pulling together resource lists and building relation- ships with providers will enable all residents of Bedford County to receive the support they need.
Consider, as the holiday season is here, giving do- nations of time or money to organizations in your local community that help vulnerable populations. Speak to neighbors, friends, and co-workers to better understand their view on homeless people in Shelbyville. The top causes of homelessness are unaffordable housing, unem- ployment, poverty, low wages, mental illness (and the lack of needed services), and substance abuse. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.
Be grateful for your own home and bank account. As you gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays, see the beauty of your town and appreciate the people who are working to make life better for all of the residents of the area, whether they have a permanent address or not. -GN