No matter what size of the city or community where you live, homelessness is a crisis everywhere. Rural homelessness, however, greatly differs from urban homelessness. Seeing people sleeping on the streets, is much less common in rural America, yet just because poverty and homelessness may be more hidden, it doesn’t mean homelessness is not a problem. In fact, because of the geographic vastness and lack of centralized services, rural homelessness has unique challenges that often don’t receive the support needed to help the hurting people in their communities.
I once was told the story of a mailman in rural Arkansas who was having trouble delivering mail because so many multiple families are now living in single family homes. Often you’ll find people living in trailers or shacks that don’t have bathrooms, electricity or water, or people just “camping” out in the woods – hidden from normal view!
This past November I happened to tour Ithaca’s infamous tent community known as The Jungle with Carmen Guidi, founder of Second Wind Cottages. It was my first time using Google Glass to help bring you all vicariously with me as we experience homelessness in America. In that video we met Richard Sherman. Neither Carmen, myself or anyone could have had any way of knowing that Richard’s tent would catch on fire the following week and he would die in a hospital the next day. Just typing this I get emotional. No one should die homelessness!
After Richard’s death last November, Mayor Svante Myrick strengthened on-going work with local stakeholders to get people the help they need. One step in that process was the Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse assuming operations of the local emergency shelter. The Rescue Mission started overseeing the new Ithaca Rescue Mission on March 1st, and on April 16th celebrated a grand opening with the Ithaca community. I so love this photo: Alan Thornton, CEO of the Rescue Mission, joins Mayor Svante Myrick, along with several wonderful people who are staying at the shelter to cut the ribbon. Just look at the smiles!
My travels have taken me through most every large shelter in North America, and I always get a smile when I first walk into rural services. In contrast to spaces in large shelters, the “Friendship Center” in the Ithaca Rescue Mission, is more like a living room. In this video interview Mayor Myrick candidly talks about rural homelessness and even his own homelessness as a child. Alan Thornton speaks about the Ithaca Rescue Mission and how they are already reaching capacity. Alan also talks about how rescue missions need to engage with mainstream housing options to help get people out of homelessness. The Ithaca Rescue Mission is a great example of how faith based organizations can step up to work right along side other service providers and stakeholders to strengthen community support in ending homelessness.