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Helping the homeless

Published 2:23 pm, Tuesday, December 24, 2013
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The plight of homeless people in the New Milford/Danbury area, in Connecticut and across the country is deeply concerning on a year-round basis, as those individuals seek ways to cope with their misfortune.

But now, with winter officially here and cold weather the norm for the next few months, the stakes are even higher.

Homelessness is a complicated and sensitive issue, and even the most well-meaning governmental and community leaders find it a challenging one to solve, or even minimize.

These are real, live human beings who need help, and more aggressive, more compassionate efforts need to be made in every community to provide that assistance.

Statistics on homelessness are difficult to determine, and most statistics are likely underestimated.

There can be no debate the numbers are depressingly high and it is disgraceful, in a land of plenty, so many people are living on the streets, in the woods, wherever they can find a place to stay.

The federal statistics are staggering: An estimated 3.5 million Americans find themselves homeless at one point or another over the course of a year, including 160,000 children and 100,000 veterans.

In Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, experts on homelessness say there are about 5,000 individuals without a place of their own on any given night. About 90 percent of the homeless find temporary shelter, but several hundred are forced to battle the elements -- in a tent, under a tree, in someone else's barn -- regardless of the weather.

There are an estimated 175 homeless people right here in this area, with about half of them in Danbury and between two and three dozen in New Milford.

The effort to reduce homelessness is an uphill battle, as a struggling economy, high unemployment, a low minimum wage, a reduction in food stamp benefits and cuts to social programs have put more people out on the street or at risk of becoming homeless.

Fortunately, there are good people -- in New Milford, in Danbury, in other communities nearby and across the nation -- who have gone to bat for the homeless and who continue to provide temporary assistance, point the way to individual self-reliance and offer hope for a better future.

In New Milford, four churches open their doors on an alternating basis to offer shelter to anywhere from several to 20 homeless people per night at the colder time of year. There are four homeless shelters in Danbury -- two year-round and two that are open during the colder months -- that provide beds for 84 people.

There is also transitional housing available at several sites in Danbury, and there are soup kitchens in New Milford and Danbury that provide meals for the needy, some of whom are homeless.

There are other area programs, as well, aimed at improving the lives of those who are down on their luck, including the recent seventh annual Project Homeless Connect.

Held at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Project Homeless Connect gave 200 homeless individuals the chance to receive a range of assistance -- from health tests and flu shots to haircuts and social service advice.

We applaud all those throughout the area who are involved in reaching out to the homeless for their efforts to improve the lives of the unfortunate souls who have nowhere else to turn.

But the harsh reality is, as Danbury enters the homestretch of its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, homelessness is nowhere near ended in the city or the area.

With freezing, cold nights as an immediate reminder and, in the spirit of the 26 Acts of Kindness engendered by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown a year ago, we call on the Greater New Milford/Danbury community to do all it can to end, or at least significantly reduce, homelessness.

We call on governmental, community and religious leaders to move the issue of homelessness to the front burner of concerns to be addressed -- and to keep it there until the issue has been resolved.