NEWBURGH - On any given day, there are about 100 homeless people on the streets of Newburgh. The statistics in both the Hudson Valley and nationwide, are equally staggering. Last Wednesday, a group of community workers teamed with The Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center, trying to understand this widespread issue, while discussing potential remedies.
"Homelessness can affect anyone, anywhere; it knows no boundaries," affirmed Linda Muller, President and CEO of the Family Health Center. "We want those going through it to know healthcare is available and can be given with dignity and respect."
Recently receiving a grant specifically for that end, The Family Health Center wanted to educate community members and personnel on exactly what being homeless looked and felt like. Choosing August 14, National Homeless Awareness Day, the Health Center joined with other pivotal community agencies and conducted a telling Simulation Experience at the House of Refuge, located on Lower Broadway.
Close to 100 participants were involved, taking on roles of over 20 family units. Each group faced challenging realities, leaving them homeless. Role players were faced with the daunting task of providing basic needs and shelter for their families over a course of four 15-minute "weeks." Tables, containing information and led by volunteer personnel from such services as a; pawnshop, social services, bank, grocery and childcare, dotted the perimeter of the room. After reading their individual profiles, participants could be seen hastily navigating these resources.
One family unit, a single mother, her live-in boy friend, and one year old daughter, were trying to survive on $900 a month. Recently evicted, the couple was shocked to learn the childcare facility who would finally accept them required an $80 payment up front. Like many others, they were forced to frequent the pawnshop, who offered far less for their possessions than they anticipated. Forced to take the measly payment, they were quickly questioned by a police officer for not having required identification in possession. Luckily given a break, they soon had to stand in a countless number of long lines, awaiting housing and other needed essentials, only to be continually given the run-around.
"The simulation provided an opportunity to ‘walk a mile’ in someone else’s shoes," said Diahan Scott, a Community Development Coordinator for the Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center. "The amount of time waiting to access services was frustrating; the many challenges that families have to overcome to get through a given week reinforces the need to streamline services so that families in need are not bounced to different places when they are at their most vulnerable point."
Following the hour-long role playing, a post discussion segment ensued regarding some of the many hardships that participants experienced as well as possible remedies for them. Some of the many frustrations expressed included; losing time at one’s job, accessing resources to survive, being evicted by the time utilities were able to be paid, and being sent from agency to agency without ever really getting any answers or help in a timely manner. Some results led to desperation: one woman stole from her boyfriend; while another took bus tickets every chance she got and still another found herself continually scheming. Participants saw first-hand the effects being homeless has on children, particularly their education. They further had their eyes opened to how the lack of transportation can be a huge barrier when navigating social services. Finally, they directly experienced the feeling thousands across our area do of being scared and lonely, while being consumed by feelings of hopelessness.
"Today was so important because agencies and employers of those providing services to the homeless need to have an understanding of what people go through," said Leslie Hoffman, who works with the homeless at Ecclesia Ministry. "Discussions of the experience and continued dialogue are important for a real beginning of an understanding."