As we enter the season of giving and gratitude, learn how you can reach out to neighbors and others who have fewer resources.
The holiday season is a time to reflect on what we have and are grateful for: family, friends, health, and so much more. It’s also an opportunity to recognize that many people—both within and outside our communities—are not as fortunate. In fact, an estimated 39.7 million people in the United States live in poverty, including nearly 1 in 5 children.1 Among the most pressing issues they face are hunger and homelessness.
Hunger in America
More than 40 million Americans face hunger, including 12.5 million children.2 The United States Department of Agriculture describes this group as “food insecure,” meaning that they are uncertain of having or being able to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all members of their household at some time during the year, due to insufficient money or other resources.
Often these households must choose between buying food and paying for other necessities. In a poll conducted by Feeding America of individuals using the organization’s services, 69% said they had to choose between paying for food and utilities, 66% between food and medical care, and 57% between food and housing.3
Children are particularly at risk: Those facing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental challenges in areas like language and motor skills, and display social and behavioral problems.4
While people who sleep on the streets present the most stark, visible portrait of homelessness, there are another 1.42 million Americans who stayed in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program in 2017.5
Housing affordability and health issues are among the most common factors linked to homelessness. Stagnant wage growth and rising rents have put approximately 11 million low-income households at risk of homelessness as they spend at least half of their income on housing.6
While physical and mental health conditions and their associated costs can lead to homelessness, homelessness itself can cause or exacerbate existing health issues. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), individuals residing in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general public. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS are found at much higher rates in individuals impacted by homelessness.7
What Can We Do to Help?
Raising awareness of these problems can lead to both increased funding for solutions and more direct action to combat the causes of poverty. During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week—a national campaign during the week before Thanksgiving that was founded in 1975 at my alma mater Villanova—the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness sponsor educational, service, fundraising and advocacy activities across the country. Having participated in various activities myself, I would encourage exploring how you and your family can get involved in a local Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week campaign.
You can also contribute to national non-profits, like Feeding America, and reach out to local community and religious groups to learn how you can volunteer to help your neighbors who are less privileged.
As we celebrate the holidays, let’s not lose sight of how fortunate we are and the many ways we can bring attention to issues of poverty and share our resources with those in need.