Holidays serve as reminder to help

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Families crowding into a small trailer with no heat. Multiple families living in a bus. A man freezing to death because he does not have shelter.

These are not headlines from a large and dangerous city like New York. These are the desperate situations of several individuals and families who are homeless right here in Brookings.

According to a recent survey by the Housing for the Homeless Consortium, four adults and one child are homeless in Brookings County, and a total of 1,026 people, 781 adults and 245 children are homeless statewide.

Although surveys were sent to all 66 South Dakota counties, only 19 counties responded. These include the most populated counties, Minnehaha and Pennington, but not the poorest like Shannon County-the second poorest county in the United States, according to the Housing Assistance Council.

Teri Johnson, the senior pastor of the Brookings First United Methodist Church, said the numbers for Brookings County are too low. “There are more than we have any idea. There really is an underground community,” she said.

To reach their results, the Consortium worked with over 75 agencies, shelters and local law enforcements to get as accurate a count as possible, said Betty Durfee of Goodwill Industries, who helped coordinate the count. Still, she said the time of day, the person who is conducting the survey and the weather can skew the statistics.

Johnson also thinks that families taking in other families cause the results to be inaccurate. “The people that have nothing, when they hear that people don’t have a home, they take them in,” she said.

For the first time, the Consortium tried to count these cases of doubled up families. It found that 202 adults and 337 children are living in multi-family homes across the state. The Consortium also found that in some extreme cases, eight adults and seven children were living in a three-bedroom unit, and seven adults and 22 children in a four-bedroom unit.

Johnson has helped at the Harvest Table, which is a no-cost meal served every Monday night at the Methodist Church. The meal averages about 120 guests each time, and due to this ministry, Johnson has learned the situations of some of the homeless in Brookings.

She has also become good friends with many of Brookings’s homeless, such as the family that lives in the bus, but she does not know how her friends or any other homeless person “does it.” She figures that “the community of friends” is the main contributor to some homeless people’s survival. Still, “For a majority of us, we have someone to call, mostly family. So many of these families are on their own,” Johnson said.

According to the Consortium’s survey, many of the state’s homeless population turn to emergency shelters and transitional housing for temporary relief. Of the 781 adults, 358 said that they would be sleeping in transitional housing and 177 would be sleeping in an emergency shelter that night. However, 53 of these adults and 20 of the 245 children were sleeping outdoors that night.

The Consortium’s survey discovered many reasons for homelessness. Statewide, alcoholism was the most common answer while job loss or unemployment, a recent release from jail or prison, inability to pay rent, an argument with family and physical and mental illness were high on the list.

Johnson does not really see a set pattern for homelessness in Brookings. She thinks homelessness in Brookings occurs because “a lot of families fall between the cracks,” “that is how it was as a child” or “life hasn’t been fair.”

One pattern Johnson certainly does not see is laziness. “Many people think people are poor because they’re lazy and don’t want a real job,” she said. “That has not been my experience.” A lot of the homeless are working two to three jobs, and so they make too much for assistance but not enough to pay all the bills like heat, rent and daycare, Johnson said.

Many of the Consortium’s findings support Johnson. Eighty-six percent of homeless adults who receive a monthly income stated that their income came from employment, not governmental assistance.

For those who did not receive a monthly income, many of their reasons included simple luxuries that many people typically take for granted. These homeless cited having health problems or needing education, clothing, a shower facility, a phone and transportation as some of the main reasons that they did not receive a monthly income. Only ten respondents said they did not want to work.

Another common misconception about the homeless is that they live on and waste their governmental assistance. According to the Consortium, though, a majority of 471 homeless adults who were surveyed did not receive governmental assistance. Twenty-one of those homeless said they did not get governmental assistance because they did not need assistance. Johnson might say this is because they do not view their situation as desperate. “I don’t know if they even say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is pretty bad.’ They are pretty happy people, and they’re always giving. They get something we don’t,” she said.

The citizens of Brookings and students of SDSU have many ways that they can help the homeless. Organizations and services like the Harvest Table, the Salvation Army, the food pantry, local churches and Our Neighbor-a new organization meant to fill and bridge gaps among other organizations-have ample opportunities for people to volunteer.

For resources on campus, SDSU students can contact Hanna Lindberg, the UPC Community Service Coordinator, or the Student Leaders in Service. Lindberg feels all SDSU students should get involved whether it is through community organizations or SDSU. “Some people take for granted what they have been given-the clothes they have, the food they eat,” she said. “We need to give to people who might not have as much as we do. It’s just so simple and easy.”

Lindberg also feels that even though Brookings County officially only has five homeless people, this is still a problem. “I don’t think anyone should be homeless,” she said. Instead, Lindberg believes that the rest of the community should step up and help the homeless find resources. She simply said, “There is no excuse for anyone to be homeless in Brookings.”

Johnson agrees. “In my mind, one adult and one child is a problem,” she said.

#1.882996:1440233774.jpg:homelessnessJN.web.jpg:Daktronics employees (l-r) Stacie Buus, Christianne Beringer and Mike Ahartz load a van full of toys for Project Joy in Brookings. Project Joy provides toys and gift wrap for less fortunate families.: