Search for "Homeless Day" on the Internet and you'll come up with World Homeless Day, World Homeless Awareness Day, World Homeless Action Day, and other variations. Whatever it's called, the important thing is that people are suffering -- and the problem is getting worse.
In Toledo, the homeless population increased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2010, the highest rate in Ohio. And the 974 homeless people receiving services from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will have to stay focused on where their next meal will come from and how they'll stay warm if AccuWeather Inc. is correct and Toledo is headed for one of its roughest winters on record.
A special day of recognition for the homeless was held for the first time on Oct. 10, 2010. Organizers wanted that date because they thought 10/10/10 would be easy to remember. But on a calendar that's filled with dates to raise awareness about one cause or another, some will get tossed aside as visual clutter. The message behind it must not be lost, however, especially as Toledo struggles with state and federal cutbacks, a housing crisis, and recession.
Nationally, there are an estimated 640,000 homeless people, 15 percent of them military veterans. America can do better. And it can start in the Toledo metro area.
Here, the 25 percent spike in the homeless population was one of only two double-digit increases among major Ohio cities. The other was Akron, which had a 14.3 percent increase. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and even long-beleaguered Youngstown experienced declines in homelessness over that same two-year period, while the increase in Columbus was only 3.4 percent.
Support for Toledo-area homeless services is being generated with three events today, the opening of rock 'n' roll photographer-tour manager Harry Sandler's month-long exhibit at 20 North Gallery downtown, on St. Clair Street across from Fifth Third Field; the second annual 1MileMatters walk downtown, and the inaugural 1Rocks-1Matters Benefit Concert at the Erie Street Market. Proceeds from these events will be used by the homeless advocacy group, 1Matters, to enhance services.
The group's annual Tent City camp-out downtown will be Oct. 28 through Oct. 30. Scores of volunteers experience living on the street, some sleeping over two nights in a tent. Music, coffee, food, and worship will be shared as services from free flu shots to legal counseling are provided to those in need.
Ultimately, though, it's not about clever dates on a calendar or remembering a combination of events designed to give temporary comfort to the homeless. It's about rallying hearts and minds. It's about recognizing that even -- perhaps especially -- in difficult times we have a responsibility to help the less fortunate.
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