According to the US State of Homelessness report, 564,708 people experience homelessness on any given night—meaning they sleep outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.
Amongst 32 of the largest US cities, DC has the highest homelessness rate with over 8,000 homeless individuals, or 124 homeless people for every 10,000 residents in the general population.
The rate in DC is almost double the national average.
The face of homelessness is not an old man-- it’s actually a young child. HUD reports that on any given night, over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are children under the age of 18.
In our nation’s capital, families make up 52% of the homeless community.
With rent prices soaring across US cities, many low-income people turn to subsidized housing for a place to sleep.
But in recent years, HUD’s budget has been slashed by over 50%, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.
Over 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.
Slipping in and out of homelessness, studies find DC women stay in a low-barrier shelter a median number of 27 nights.
Many homeless people rely on non-profits like Thrive DC for daily hot meals and showers. But with government funding cuts, these organizations need your help fundraising and donating.
Just $26 provides organizations like Thrive DC with a full month of hot showers for their homeless clients. You can also see your donations in action by volunteering with Thrive DC.
And if you encounter a homeless person on the street and want to help right then and there, print out or pick up these cards that include info about how to get any sort of help they may need.
Consider helping out your community today
Let’s be honest: at one time or another you’ve thought these things. And that's OK! If you’ve met our clients, then you probably wouldn’t know much about them. Totally expected!
So today we’re going to go through our most embarrassing questions and give you the real, honest truth :)
Sometimes. Sometimes not! Many times, laziness and unemployment are mistaken for each other. Most of the time, though, unemployment comes from personal demons like substance abuse or depression. When you’re homeless, things can appear hopeless. It’s understandable that when your life is crashing down it’s hard to bounce back.
One example: we have a client who lost his wife in tragic circumstances. It sent him spiraling into depression and substance abuse, and he ended up on the streets after giving up on life. Finally, he came to us and we were able to help him put his life back together with housing, a full-time job, and supportive community.
So we absolutely have some clients who have “given up,” which can look like laziness. It’s part of our mission to give them hope and confidence again. As their attitudes improve, so can their drive and determination.
Not all clients are in the same position. For example, we also have clients working the night shift, or juggling a part-time job and an internship, or people who want to work but can’t because they don’t have their GED. There are a lot of different people we serve, and a lot of different situations.
There are also times we see people lying on benches or sleeping on the sidewalk and think "laziness." But honestly, while shelters have a bed to sleep in (if you can get in one) there can often be very little sleeping going on. Things are noisy, other residents can be dangerous, and there is a constant worry about your belongings being stolen.
And if you're not sleeping at night, sleep has to catch up with you somewhere.
Fact: 30% of our clients have not graduated from high school. But! 35% have at least some college experience, and we’ve had great conversations with clients who have either Master’s degrees or PhDs.
Education is not a predictor for homelessness. We once had a teacher who became homeless, but were able to help him out with emergency services and a new job. He bounced back and is now making over $60,000 in DC.
Many of our clients do, however, struggle with computer literacy. That’s why we have an open computer lab from 10 AM - 5 PM Monday through Friday and volunteers to help clients navigate unfamiliar technology.
Some of our clients are very dirty. The rules to using showers at shelters or day programs vary from place to place. We had one client who had a skin condition and needed a shower so that she could apply her medication. But no one would let her because of her condition, that is until she found us!
Thrive DC is just one of five places in the city that offers both free showers and free laundry services. Over 8,000 homeless individuals have to compete for these limited resources and that makes it hard to stay clean.
Some of our clients do arrive early every day just to make sure they can take a shower. Some you would never know are homeless by the way they look. But whether someone is homeless and dirty is more a reflection of their circumstances and/or mental health than it is their general cleanliness.
Great question! Mental health is a big concern for our clients. Many clients have diagnoses and many are dealing with depression whether it's diagnosed or not.
46% of our clients have needed mental health services in the past. 37% currently have a mental health diagnosis. Mental health is a significant part of our work at Thrive DC, but it’s not the only aspect, and for most people, not even the most important.
Many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, regardless of a client’s mental health state, we believe in treating everyone with equal dignity and respect. Our main goal is to make sure that all clients feel welcomed and safe.
For those clients struggling with internal issues, we offer therapy programs like art & music therapy for all clients. We can also help some clients pay for prescription medication. No matter what, we encourage all of our clients on medication to follow their doctor’s instructions, even if they feel like they don’t need it.
Some members of our community are addicted to drugs and alcohol, without question. That’s why we have a substance abuse counselor leading weekly support groups in both English and Spanish. For some clients, rehab will have to be part of their path back to a normal life.
But, in the city, only 30% of the homeless population have a substance abuse problem. It’s a significant part of our population, but it does not represent the majority of our clients or the problems that they face.
Everyone is different! Our clients are dealing with significant issues. Some people will look like confirmation of stereotypes and some won’t. But it will be hard to know for yourself until you meet them.
Also, can homeless people be lazy, uneducated, dirty, mentally ill, and addicted? Sure. But so can people who aren't homeless. These things aren't unique to homelessness and our clients but can be found in all walks of life.
If this was good information for you, and you want more, consider inviting a member of Thrive DC to come talk to your community. Our staff is available for presentations at churches, “lunch-and-learns” at companies, and neighborhood meetings. We would be happy to talk about homelessness in general and put your experience into context.
If you’re interested in a presentation, email our Community Relations Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information!
Winter can seem like the most dangerous time of the year for the homeless. But actually, homeless individuals face a lot of unique challenges all through the year, from snow to heat.
People living on the streets need your help all year round. Here are the Top 5 ways summer is dangerous for the homeless, and what you can do to help.
For the homeless, turning on the AC during a hot day isn’t an option. If they can’t find a restaurant or store where they can get in out of the sun, they stand at increased risk for hyperthermia or heat stroke. On days when it’s 95 degrees outside or more, that’s deadly.
Restaurants and stores often have a “Customers Only” policy that put the homeless at a severe disadvantage when it comes to cooling off. When there’s a Hyperthermia alert on, libraries and public fountains serve as critical oases for the homeless.
Sadly, mental illness is something a large part of the homeless population lives with and medication can mess with the way the human body reacts to heat. Antidepressants can prevent the body from sweating or prevent the blood flow to the skin from increasing, which puts them at greater risk of overheating.
The heat will also exacerbate any breathing problems. This disproportionately affects the homeless, who often suffer from respiratory infections.
It's a common misconception that cold exposure is the deadliest weather the homeless face; dehydration during the summer is actually a bigger cause of death.
Staying hydrated during the heat is super important as dehydration can worsen pre-existing health conditions. Having ready access to fresh water is a luxury many people don’t have when they are barred from public restaurants and stores, and lakes and rivers don’t count.
The homeless are often on their feet all day long, and the hot weather can lead to severe athlete’s foot, pitted keratolysis, ingrown toe nails, and more.
These kind of problems are easy to avoid with proper footwear and consistently clean, dry socks, but many homeless individuals struggle to keep just one or two pairs with them, let alone clean.
Bugs like mosquitoes and ticks multiply during the summer, and while they can be annoying for everyone, they can be especially dangerous for the homeless trying to find a safe place to sleep in a park or wooded area.
Without adequate protection like bug spray, these insects can keep someone up all night, cause infection, or spread diseases. Since many homeless people lack access to good healthcare, early signs of something wrong can either be not recognized or ignored.
While summer can be full of hidden dangers, the good news is that there are lots of ways to help the homeless beat the heat:
Whether or not spring-cleaning season was successful for you this year, fall is around the corner, and it's the perfect time for round two (or one). It's time to put away the bathing suits and sunscreen and to dig up the cozy sweaters and garden rakes in preparation for the next few months. While you're at it, make a little extra space in your life by clearing out the things you don't need, donating the clothes you haven't worn in a year, and giving away items you don't even remember owning that might be of better use to somebody else. Before you even get started, take a look at this top 10 list of resources that folks need for fall that you might have to give away, just to give you some ideas. Happy un-cluttering! (more…)
By Natalie Fiszer As a college student, boredom is seldom a problem. With classes, jobs, friends, and extracurricular activities from club soccer to acapella groups, you're barely left with any time to answer phone calls from your parents. Why add being a volunteer to the mix? (more…)
A few weeks ago I posted a list of myths about homelessness. As an organization that provides services to men and women experiencing homelessness and that engages over 2,000 individual volunteers each year it is important to Thrive DC that we are able to help our volunteers to have a better understanding of homelessness. I hope you take a few minutes to read over the list of myths below, and the facts behind them, and let us know what you think. Have you ever felt like one of these myths was true? Where do you think these misconceptions come from? (more…)
Gaining access to services can be challenging at the very best of times, and for individuals trying to find support for themselves and their families it can be even more complicated. Here at Thrive DC we work to make sure that all of our support programs are accessible to families and would like to recognize some of our colleagues who do the same. (more…)
Soup Kitchens have a longstanding community history in the United States dating back to the late 1800's. Businesses and other groups have always stepped up to support members of their own communities who need a little extra help and Thrive DC is no different. Through our Daily Bread / Daily Needs program Thrive DC provides hot meals to over 200 individuals each weekday. This huge task is a team effort combining the support of donors, local food vendors, volunteers, and staff. As with any group project, we are only as strong as the support we receive so I encourage you to consider supporting Thrive DC or a Soup Kitchen near you.
10. America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s major food bank network, annually provides food to over 23 million people. That is more than the population of the state of Texas.
9. Average hot meal costs are below $2.00 at most Soup Kitchens because of the support they receive from volunteers and donors.
8. More than enough food is wasted each year than is needed to feed all of our nation’s hungry. The USDA recently found that about 96 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the United States were thrown away by retailers, restaurants, farmers and households over the course of one year. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, grain products, and sweeteners accounted for 2/3 of these losses.
*Ask the restaurants that you visit if they participate in a Food Rescue Program to reduce the amount of food they throw away.
7. Hunger affects how people view their communities and their lives.
6. 5.6 million households obtained emergency food from food pantries at least once during 2009. In 2008 alone, a rise of about 6% in the price of groceries has led the poor to adopt a variety of survival strategies, from buying food that is beyond its expiration date to visiting food banks.
5. Hunger affects how people perform at work and their health. Hungry adults miss more work and consume more health care than those who don’t go hungry.
4. Hunger affects how children perform in school.
3. One and five children go hungry every month. Kids who experience hunger are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other illness.
2. In 2009, 50.2 million Americans (up from 35.5 million in 2006), including 17.2 million children, were food insecure, or didn’t have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives.
1. Without your support Soup Kitchens are unable to provide services to the men, women, and children who visit them.
Thrive DC is working through our Help the Homeless Campaign to increase awareness and raise funds for our programs that work towards ending homelessness and hunger in Washington, DC. There are so many ways to join your voice with other organizations and individuals and get involved in this important mission that it can feel overwhelming. We've put together a list of ten ways you can make a difference today to help you get started:
10. Give A Bag Of Groceries - Load up a bag full of nonperishable groceries, and donate it to a food drive in your area. If your community doesn't have a food drive, organize one. Contact your local soup kitchens, shelters, and homeless societies and make sure to ask what kind of food donations they would like.
9. Give Seasonally Appropriate Clothing - Next time you do your spring or fall cleaning, keep an eye out for those clothes that you no longer wear. If these items are in good shape, gather them together and donate them to organizations that provide housing for the homeless.
8. Respond with Kindness - You can make quite a difference in the lives of the homeless in the ways that you respond to them. Rather than ignore or dismiss them, try a kind word and a smile.
7. Give Money - One of the most direct ways to aid the homeless is to give money. Donations to nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless go a long way.
6. Bring Food - It's as simple as taking a few extra sandwiches when you go out. When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
5. Buy StreetSense - This biweekly newspaper is sold in across Washington, DC and is intended to help the homeless help themselves. For every paper sold your vendor will earn at least 65% of your purchasing donation for basic necessities. What an impact!
4. Develop Lists of Shelters - Carry a card that lists local shelters so you can hand them out to the homeless. You can find shelters in your Yellow Pages.
3. Respect the Homeless as Individuals - Give the homeless people the same courtesy and respect you would accord your friends, your family, your employer. Treat them as you would wish to be treated if you needed assistance.
2. Understand Who the Homeless Are - Help dispel the stereotypes about the homeless. Volunteering is a great way to gain some first hand experience and make a difference right away. Learn about the different reasons for homelessness, and remember, every situation is unique.
1. Raise Awareness - Work with a local non-profit organization to make the most impact. Right now you can join us in our Help the Homeless Campaign to make a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable community members.
*This list was adapted from "35 Ways to Help the Homeless" (www.JustGive.org)