EATON — Community members gathered on the Preble County Courthouse lawn to Sleep out for Homeless Awareness on Friday, Nov. 22. Participants were invited to a candlelight ceremony, before setting up tents for a night in the cold.
The event was organized as a way for people to understand some of the struggles homeless individuals face on a daily basis.
This year’s event was hosted by Preble County Habitat for Humanity, United Way of the Greater Dayton Area, and YWCA Dayton. Other community partners were present to support the awareness campaign.
Rachael Vonderhaar opened the ceremony by thanking all in attendance and recognizing guests. She also thanked the following individuals and businesses for their support: Preble County Commissioners, 1808 Cafe, Just Teasin’ Salon, and Ron and Ginger Roth.
Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Toni Morgan spoke about Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which the Sleep Out honors.
“Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an annual program where people come together across the country to draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness in their communities. Participating groups spend the week holding a series of educational, service, fundraising, and advocacy events,” she said.
“When we planned this, we felt it was important to not only raise awareness, but to highlight community partners and the services they are providing to help end homelessness in Preble County.”
Courtney Griffith, YWCA Dayton Preble County Manager, shared statistics on domestic violence victims in Preble County and their connection with homelessness.
“Fifty-seven percent of homeless women report they are homeless directly because of sexual and/or domestic violence. Over 80 percent of homeless women and children have experienced domestic violence in their lives. At our shelter, in 2018, we sheltered 25 women and 15 children. This year, so far, we have sheltered 25 women and 26 children,” she said.
“There is a huge connection between homelessness and domestic violence. People don’t think about women and children when they think about homelessness. The reasons they are homeless are no fault of their own.”
United Way Preble County Director Alexa Joyce talked about their partnership with the HIT Foundation and YWCA Dayton. She also spoke about another service that United Way provides, called 2-1-1, which is a free and confidential service that helps people across North America find the local resources they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“At anytime, if you take out your phone and dial 2-1-1, you will be connected with a live operator who will have a database of the resources in our community. Looking back at data, in 2018, for our three county area, we had 35,031 calls related to homelessness and 192 of those were for Preble County. This year, we’ve had 33,502 with 138 being for Preble County,” she said.
Home is the Foundation Executive Director Clayton Genth spoke about the foundation’s three programs meant to impact homelessness in Preble County. He also spoke about the affordable housing the HIT Foundation offers to citizens of Preble County, which helps to keep people in their home.
“I think there is hope. Homelessness can seem like an impossible thing to combat, but I was looking at some of our Point in Time numbers in the last several years, and [the number of homeless individuals has decreased]. Three year ago, we had 78 homeless people in Preble County on that night in January when we do the Point in Time Count. Two years ago, we had 40. Last year, we had 37 [homeless individuals]. That is a lot of progress being made,” he said.
Preble County Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell focused on one program specifically, which is the Salvation Army red kettle program.
“The Salvation Army that puts out the red kettle at Christmas time and has the bell ringers that stand out by [stores]. Job and Family Services actually manages that program for Salvation Army in Preble County. What we’re able to do with that money: in Preble County, if you put money in that red kettle, 80 percent of the money collected stays in our county. We are able to use that money for individuals who are in situations that may not qualify for our other programs,” she said.
Morgan took the microphone back to share information on Habitat for Humanity and its mission statement.
“Habitat envisions a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Our mission states, ‘Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope.’ Preble County Habitat for Humanity was established in 1991 and we welcomed our 18th family home earlier this year,” she said.
During the candle-lighting ceremony, Morgan said, “As we move into our candlelit moment of silence, I am reminded of the significance of light. That’s what awareness week is about — shedding light on the invisible people in our county, but together we have the opportunity to make it so much more. These invisible people are our friends, family members, and neighbors. Living in homelessness is a dark place to be and we have the opportunity to shine light into their house.
“We can start by working a shift at the cold shelter, supporting the United Way, and making a donation to the YWCA, but we don’t have to stop there. It can also be a conversation, a smile, a hug, even a prayer. Be someone who lets your inner light shine through, so you might shine to your greatest shelf. Be someone who’s light inspires others to shine more brightly, igniting their inner embers and brightening their inner darkness. Be someone who is a beacon for love, faith, and forgiveness – someone who’s light sheds illumination on the steps to take which lead to the highest good.
“Ask yourself each day what you can do to let your light shine more brightly. Be a light sender.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH