In late October I boarded the overnight Amtrak from Union Station in New Haven, CT. I grew up spending countless hours in this train station. The smell of Subway Sandwiches, and Dunkin' Donuts reminds me of childhood adventures up and down the east coast. The train station is a place where journeys are launched and homecomings are celebrated.
But not for everyone.
As I waited for the train, I was struck by the plight of others waiting - not for the train - but for help.
A woman in her late twenties. 6 months pregnant. Crying. In pain. Scared.
An older gentleman. Well dressed. Catching a few winks of sleep. Embarrassed.
A grandma. Hunched over. Surrounded by bags and shopping carts. Lonely.
A young woman. Well dressed. Black eye. On phone, yelling. Angry.
They are the faces of homelessness in New Haven and stations across the country. People who have no place to go. No place to rest their heads. No place to recover. No place to plan or dream.
During my moms' battle with homelessness she often used it at as place of refuge. It's warm and generally safe. They still have telephones and public restrooms. And it's easy to fit in with your bags of clothing and tired legs. But as the clock strikes 1 AM and the station closes - where do you go? With shelters full or closed for the night and support networks fractured - these four people will end up on the cold streets New Haven joining more than 153 thousand unsheltered Americans.
As my train took off I stared out the window, angry that so many people were suffering, disappointed in myself for not helping them, and wondering when it became acceptable that so many Americans could be left out in the cold.
This week HUD released new data showing that homelessness has decreased 11% since 2007. That's good. But looking around the streets of New Haven, Seattle, LA, or DC - it's hard to celebrate. Doorways, park benches, abandoned buildings, and sidewalks aren't homes. We know that investing (here's a shocker) in housing works. We're making significant progress ending Chronic and Veteran Homelessness - because we are making serious investments in permanent housing. We should celebrate this progress but demand more - much more.
Nearly 600,000 Americans will experience homelessness tonight. 1/3 will be unsheltered - struggling to survive through the night in the elements. We can and must do better for our neighbors.
But what will it take? Where is the tipping point? What does it take for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week to look more like the Peoples Climate March? Imagine 500,000 people experiencing homelessness, advocates for the homeless, families of those struggling, community leaders, and average citizens linking arms and saying "we believe every man, woman, and child deserves a safe place to sleep".
Ending homelessness isn't rocket science and is certainly easier than reversing climate change. It takes good policy and strong financial investments in housing, welfare, healthcare, income supports, and jobs. It starts with voting and then building a movement to force the tipping point. I'm game, how about you?