What do you love about the holidays? Personally, I love visiting my multiple Christmases and spending quality time with my family making wonderful new memories. Now, imagine if your holiday was spent scared, alone, without family at a home that isn’t your own. That is the case for roughly 250 women, including 30 expectant mothers and 227 children who are making a temporary home at the YMCA Van Buren shelter. We’ve teamed up with them to help reunite these women and children with their families this holiday season and we need your help. Since July 2014, the Van Buren Center has helped over 1,000 men, women, and children find stable housing. Additionally, they have provided shelter to almost 5,000 people including 2,884 women and 1,622 children. These numbers are mind-blowing to me because that’s only 2 and a half years. Thousands of people who’ve had a crisis in their life they forced them to experience homelessness. You might be thinking, the YMCA? Don’t they just have great gyms and fun summer camps for kids? Well, yes they do that too! But, those facilities and events allow them to create amazing programs to foster a sense of social responsibility and deliver positive change in our communities. The Give Her Hope Campaign is just a tiny example of the amazing work they do. The great part is that you can easily help this holiday season. The Van Buren Center has a great Mission Statement that was evident when we walked into the shelter. “We protect basic human rights and meet human needs by providing safe shelter. We instill hope and provide support to our guests for their long-term success through empowerment, community engagement, and teamwork.” This was honestly an eye-opening experience for myself and my sister, who attended the discussion with me and I highly suggest everyone entertain the idea of volunteering here. An average day at the shelter can range depending on so many variables. Some children are in high school and still need to get transported to their school or bus stop. When they get back from school, they might need to practice for the High School Marching Band. This was just one of the many scenarios we heard about during our visit. While the wonderful staff works day in and day out to help each person find stable housing, all residents must leave the shelter from 9am-4pm every day. Counselors are on site to help them find a job, housing, or any other resources to help them in their current state of crisis. A wonderful quote I heard during our visit really resonated with me. “Everyone is in a crisis, theirs is just housing related.” Just think about that for a second. Everyone’s crisis is relative to their current situation but sometimes it just needs to be put in perspective.100% of proceeds from the Give Her Hope Campaign will go straight to reuniting these women and children with a stable, loving home this holiday season. Funds raised will be used for things like bus tickets, security deposits, assistance – a family’s first critical step toward recovery, healing, and stability. With your support, we can all help to make their lifes a little easier and their holidays a little brighter. The Van Buren Center can house up to 800 people on a single day. They typically hover around 500-600 people daily, primarily women and children. There can be dozens of reasons for people to experience homelessness, from escaping an abusive family situation to drug abuse to financial constraints. The goal at the Van Buren Center is for residents to find stable housing in less than 60 days from their first step in the shelter. The current shelter funding model focuses on housing first, and sometimes only $200 can be the difference between closing the gap and reuniting a family. That means that 20, just TWENTY of you could donate $10 to seriously change someone’s life. Forgo your morning coffee and croissant for a day and there you go. How easy is that?
During our discussion, the overwhelming question was “how do we help?” Other than monetary donations to amazing programs like the YMCA, there are dozens of ways to help. You can always always always donate physical items like clothes, children’s items (strollers, bottles, etc.), blankets, towels, toiletries, etc. Think of anything you use on a daily basis and coordinate a drop-off at the Van Buren Center. While I am so thankful that this shelter exists, I wish it didn’t have to because studies show even a short stay in shelter can impact a child mentally and emotionally for the rest of their lives. Additionally, infant mortality increases by 200% when a child is born in a shelter program. That last statistic absolutely breaks my heart. No one should have to experience homelessness, least of all a newborn baby.
The next time you are wandering down the street and encounter a homeless man, woman, or child, make sure you remember that homelessness is an experience. It’s a point of crisis in someone’s life that can happen to anyone, at any time in our lives. There are a million ways to give but even a smile or a simple “hi, how are you?” can change the direction of anyone’s day. Pay happiness forward this holiday season.
If you or anyone you know needs to access a shelter in Franklin County, please call 1-888-474-3587. If you know someone in a potentially abusive situation, please call 1-614-224-4663 immediately.