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The Longest Night of the Year – National Homeless Persons Memorial Day

169_IreneHomelessIn the midst of gratitude and holiday spirit, we are reminded that there is still so much work left to do and so much change needed in the world.

Tomorrow is National Homeless Persons Memorial Day – a day to remember, honor and mourn our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, cousins and friends who died this year on the streets.  Homeless people die from illnesses that affect everyone, and are frequently without health care. Homeless people die from exposure, unprotected from the heat and cold. Homeless people die from violence, often in unprovoked hate crimes. Health care is a human right. Housing is a human right. Physical safety is a human right. Remember our neighbors and friends who have died without homes. Remember why they died.

December 21st is the first day of winter — the longest night of the year.  Who is outside and without shelter on this night?  The Tri-Valley Haven’s family homeless shelter and food pantry provide resources.

What can you do to help?

You also might ask — this is a blog about ending sexual assault — what do homelessness and National Homeless Persons Memorial Day have to do with sexual assault, or ending it… or this blog, for that matter?

Sadly, a lot.

Homelessness and sexual assault are closely tied to each other for women in particular.  Many scholarly studies have shown the extraordinarily high levels of abuse and victimization that homeless women endure before, during, and after episodes of homelessness.  Here are a few statistics to make you sit back and think – they certainly hit me hard!

  • 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, with 43% reporting sexual abuse in childhood and 63% reporting intimate partner violence in adulthood.
  • In another study, 13% of homeless women reported having been raped in the past 12 months and half of these were raped at least twice.
  • Compared to their low-income housed counterparts, the sexual assault experiences of homeless women are more likely to be violent, and to include multiple sexual acts.
  • One study of women seeking help from a rape/sexual assault crisis center found that childhood sexual abuse was reported by 43% of the homeless participants, compared to 24.6% of the housed participants.
  • It is estimated that half of all homeless women and children have become homeless while trying to escape abusive situations.

Oftentimes, we talk about various social problems as unrelated to each other.  We talk about homelessness as a problem.  We talk about sexual assault as a problem.  Or domestic violence.  Or substance abuse.  Or mental health issues.  In reality, these problems are often combined, feeding on each other and tearing at lives, families and hearts in conjunction.  When you see someone who is homeless, you might only be seeing the tip of an iceberg of challenges.

How can you be an involved bystander when it comes to National Homeless Persons Memorial Day? 

Inform yourself about resources in YOUR area.  Is there a shelter?  How about a food pantry?  Free or low-income counseling services?  What is in your community and who is helping?  If you see someone who is homeless and you want to help, what can you give besides spare change?  Maybe one thing you can give is information – directions to the shelter or the food pantry, for instance.  They may already know all about these resources, but maybe they don’t!

Do you hear someone talking about victims of homelessness in a way that is abusive or stereotypes homeless people?  Take the time to let them know the real facts about homelessness.  For a great resource and quick read on the topic, you can take a look at this handout.  It’s aimed at high school students but it’s great for youth, young adult and adults alike!

There are so many ways one can be an involved bystander, actively working to help.  Brainstorm ways you might be able to make a difference this holiday season, and all seasons.

Thank you, and happy holidays!

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