Its battles for survival aren’t fought exclusively on the trashed curbs of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The homeless can now be counted among the crowded downtowns, the side streets and back alleys of towns of all size — from tiny, to mid-range to the metropolitan, where melting pot has been a code of intrigue for decades.
In spite of nonprofit organizations’ claims, some will continue to deny the presence of homelessness on our own Cleveland hometown streets.
Perhaps their denial is based upon a misguided premise that any acceptance that homelessness exists is some far-fetched admission of guilt within a community.
This is not, and should not, be the case.
Homelessness is a worsening problem, not just in Cleveland and Bradley County but in Southeast Tennessee as a whole.
Yet, a community’s homeless numbers should not be a gauge of quality.
Instead, how a community cares for its homeless ... this is the standard by which any hometown should be measured.
Are governments ignoring the needs of the troubled?
Are social service agencies failing to reach out to those most in need of a temporary roof or a secure bed at night?
Are churches failing to establish shelters and kitchens for those who have no escape from the cold, the loneliness and the hunger?
Are organizations stepping up to assist these forlorn to find jobs and housing while assuring that children caught up in this strange world of drifting are protected and well cared for, either with their beleaguered parents or other caregivers?
Are community residents still of the flawed opinion that homelessness is the finger-pointing result of people making bad or reckless decisions and not that the homeless are occasionally the victims of unexpected circumstance?
In Cleveland, we believe the resounding answer to the questions above is a collective “No.” For the most part, area residents have accepted the plight of these less fortunate and the majority are stepping up to help.
We see it in our churches that provide an array of carefully networked people services, from food to clothing to temporary housing.
We see it in our nonprofit organizations like United Way, Family Promise and the Cleveland Emergency Shelter, among others, who reach out daily to help the individuals, families and families with children who are impacted by homelessness.
Yet awareness remains a key and only this can precede a decision to get involved.
We mention this as a reminder of a special educational and informational forum scheduled Thursday at the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. It is titled “Homelessness in Southeast Tennessee” and is sponsored through the North American Association of Christians.
It is a public, open panel discussion that will benefit anyone with questions; plus, it will seek opinions.
Its membership is a well-versed group finely tuned in the reality of homelessness because they work with it daily.
Panelists will include Susan Birdwell, Family Promise; Matt Carlson, Habitat for Humanity; Dwight Donahoo, Cleveland Emergency Shelter; Ruthie Forgey, The Salvation Army; Linda Katzman, Homeless Health Care of Hamilton County; and Matt Ryerson, United Way of Bradley County. Moderators will include Reba Terry, executive director of The Caring Place, and Bob Zylstra, representing the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga.
Mark your calendars and plan to attend.
Get your questions answered.
Offer your solutions.
Homelessness is more than surviving without a roof, a warm bed and a nutritious meal.
It is about what those who have will do in support of those who have not.