We hear every day how our citizens seem so concerned for immigrants to make sure their needs are met; but, we forget that statistics show that America’s homeless problem is getting worse. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were roughly 554,000 homeless people living somewhere in the United States on a given night last year. And, we also forget a lot of these are innocent children bathing in gas station sinks and sleeping in hot cars or on pavement. Thankfully, some real saviors are coming to their rescue and hopefully, it will start a new trend in how society thinks about their own.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a former Macy’s in Landmark Mall has been turned into a homeless shelter. One employee, Karleen Smith, an ironic turn of events happened in her life. She was once an employee of the same building that is now providing her shelter.
“It’s weird to be moving into this building. I used to work here,” she said inside the shelter’s common room, which was once the men’s department. “It’s called survival.”
At the vacant Macy’s in Alexandria, the Carpenter’s Shelter, a nonprofit group, moved into its temporary home in June 2018, 15 months after the last shopper rang out. The former store now provides 60 beds, hot meals, and showers for families and for single men and women who are having trouble finding a place to live in a city with a scarcity of affordable housing.
As Terrence McCoy writes in the Washington Post, the transformation of Alexandria’s Landmark Mall into a homeless shelter is representative of “a new way of thinking that is bringing together three economic phenomena: the collapse of the brick-and-mortar retail industry, the disappearance of affordable housing in America’s boom towns, and the struggle to reduce homelessness.”
The number of homeless represents 17 out of every 10,000 people in the United States. HUD’s Annual Point-in-Time Count, the only nation-wide survey of homeless people, provides this data and other useful statistics.
Most people experiencing homelessness are individuals (67 percent). The remainder (33 percent) are people in families with children. Public policy has put a focus on additional subpopulations.
One of the subpopulations is youth who are under the age of 25 and living on their own (without parents or children). This group is 7 percent of the total homeless population. In recent years, coordinated efforts at all levels of government have also targeted veterans (7 percent of the total homeless population) and chronically homeless people (18 percent). This last group consists of people with disabilities who have been homeless for an extended period of time or repeatedly.
White Americans are the largest racial grouping, accounting for 49 percent of those experiencing homelessness. Most of these people are down on their luck and have run out of options. The feeling from many is they are drug users but the reality is that the drug use has been an abused way to handle their reality.
Writing for Business Insider, Leanna Garfield noted that, “Hundreds of malls and thousands of mall-based stores have shuttered in the past two decades, and many more may close within the next 10 years.”
Could the Alexandria project be a model? “The fact is that there will be millions upon millions of square feet of retail space that are not going to be used over the next five years,” notes Amanda Nicholson, a professor of retail practice at Syracuse University. “I think it would be an inspired idea.”
Photo courtesy of Bing via pxleyes.com