Revealing a ‘Hidden’ Problem
by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/editor-One College Avenue.
On an unseasonably warm November evening, 11 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in applied human services spent the night in front of the Lycoming County Court House in downtown Williamsport, where they provided information about homelessness while collecting supplies and cash for Family Promise of Lycoming County.
The group experienced an unexpected touch of reality when, during the downtown event, they interacted with two individuals who had no place to stay for the night. The students in turn connected them with Family Promise and, ultimately, shelter for the evening.
The students were enrolled in a course called Service Learning in Sociology, taught by Rob Cooley, assistant professor of anthropology and environmental science. In addition to their downtown campout, which included signs, a food vendor and live music, the students fed a Facebook page with facts, videos and giving challenges; created an online giving campaign at “GoFundMe.com”; and conducted on-campus collections of supplies for Family Promise clients.
From interviewing those who work with area homeless, to researching permitting requirements, working with law enforcement, and arranging musicians and food vendors for the event, the experience helped to build the students’ confidence in event planning and awareness building as they prepare for careers with human services agencies.
Facts About Homelessness
(compiled by students in Service Learning in Sociology):
- Homelessness describes the condition of people without a regular dwelling. People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure and adequate housing, or lack "fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence.”
- Families make up nearly 40 percent of the homeless population – its fastest-growing segment.
- One out of every 45 American children will experience homelessness this year.
- The average age of a homeless individual is 9.
- In Lycoming County and similar communities, homelessness is hidden. We don’t see people sleeping in cardboard boxes or on park benches, so many don’t know a problem exists, explained student Eve A. Allen, of Williamsport. Instead, many sleep in cars or other less-conspicuous places.
- On any given night, as many as 150 beds are filled in the Williamsport area’s homeless shelters. “And those are just the ones able to get into a shelter,” student Lacy D. Schoonover said.
- In 2012, Family Promise of Lycoming County served 27 families consisting of 80 individuals. Of the 80 people, 41 were under the age of 18. Twenty of those were under the age of 5.
- Nationally, about 50 percent of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.
- Local organizations who work with the homeless indicate that Lycoming is one of the counties with the highest number of counted homeless people in central Pennsylvania.