When you go to bed tonight, will you be warm enough? Will you have been able to wash up and brush your teeth? When you get up tomorrow morning, will you have something to eat?
Those are questions that many people in our community struggle with on a daily basis. On Wednesday, the annual Homeless Connect event at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex attempted to help more than 100 members of our community with some of those answers.
The nature of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula is different than it is elsewhere. It’s not as visible. While there are some people living in tents in the woods, we don’t often see panhandlers on street corners.
Instead, we see people who bounce from one temporary situation to another. The Kenai Peninsula School District on its website defines homeless youth as “students who lack a permanent, stable, and adequate place to sleep at night. This can include students who are living in a shelter, hotel, tent, or car, students that are ‘doubled-up’ with extended family members or friends because of financial difficulty, youth not living with their parent or legal guardian, or those in ‘substandard’ housing.”
Past studies have found between 400 and 500 homeless individuals on the Kenai Peninsula at any given time, but also noted the number is difficult to pin down.
The reasons that individuals and families find themselves homeless are varied, a large part of why addressing the situation is so difficult. Causes of homelessness could be a lack of employment or financial hardship, but could also include substance abuse issues, domestic violence, mental illness, medical conditions and disabilities. In other words, homelessness is just one of many challenges a displaced person or family may be facing.
And that’s another part of what makes homelessness such a difficult issue to address. Those who try to help will discover that things are complicated, that there are no neat and tidy solutions. Finding a stable living situation is just one part of the equation, but a necessary step before anything else can fall into place.
We’re grateful to the organizers of the Homeless Connect event for not just helping those in need, but also for raising awareness of the issue for the rest of our community. Because homelessness is not as visible here as it is elsewhere, it can be easy for the rest of us to overlook — yet there’s hundreds of people in our community who aren’t sure if they will have a warm place to sleep tonight, or something to eat before they go to bed.
And we’re grateful for all those who are willing to help. We’d like our readers to take to heart the words of Aleea Faulkner, a Girl Scout from Kenai who collected 800 pairs of socks to be donated to those in need. She and her fellow scouts attached notes to each pair, “Just to let everyone know we care.”
Homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula is a challenging issue. But knowing there are people who care gives us hope that we can make it better.