As most of America moves into the two-month long holiday season and celebrate gratitude for having enough – family, homes, food – by gathering with friends and family while sharing meals and gifts, there is a growing population who won’t be able to celebrate and that doesn’t have close to “enough.”
November 11 through 18 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The National Coalition of the Homeless estimates that across the country, there are 580,000 Americans without shelter on any given night while 44 million are suffering from hunger – the kind where they’ve not had enough food in days. While those numbers are staggering, the risk for many more Americans to join those numbers is high: 37.2 million Americans live at or below poverty level and often have to choose between paying rent, buying food, or getting medical attention. That 37.2 million people means that 1 out of every 6 children in America is living in poverty.
While it’s easy to think of those numbers as stemming from metropolitan areas where there are a lot of people vying for not a lot of space, the fact is that Homelessness and Hunger are affecting White County at an alarming rate.
“This past year we've seen our current homeless population grow tremendously. I would say about 40 percent more this year than in years past,” Tina Lomax, founder and executive-director of Seeds of Hope TN – a local organization that seeks to meet the needs of those at risk of homelessness, or who are already without shelter, said. “What alarms me is the number of young adults (ages 18-25) and children we currently have without housing. Right now, I believe the influx of our neighbors becoming homeless is the lack of affordable housing. People are literally being priced out of their homes. “
Lomax said that her personal goal is to inform as many people as possible about homelessness and the causes that are behind the rapidly rising numbers.
“I want to end the stigma that surrounds homelessness. These aren’t ‘bad’ people or people who ‘won’t work’ or who are ‘looking for a handout’. They aren’t even necessarily people who are on drugs or have made bad choices,” Lomax said. “There are people who have no choice. Who are working to buy groceries for their children, who are being priced out of their homes – homes they may have been living in for years in some cases. These are people that are doing the best they can, but there is nowhere for them to go. These are our neighbors. There are families. Moms and dads who are going to work each day. And we don’t have any place that they can afford to live. It's heartbreaking to see children sleeping in cars and tents, but this is where we are right now in our current climate.”
While Seeds of Hope of TN can’t provide permanent housing for the estimated 80-plus people in White County who have not shelter at night, they are doing what they can to provide services that include a soup kitchen, a pantry, and help finding resources for those who are seeking them. In addition, beginning Dec. 15, they will be opening their annual Coldest Nights Shelter that will provide a warm place to sleep, a place to wash laundry, and a warm meal each night through the winter.
“In the past, we have only opened on nights when the temperature got below a certain level, but this year we aim to be open every night from Dec. 15 through March 15,” Lomax explained. “But in order to do that, we will need help from the community.”
To help educate the community on not just the epidemic of homelessness that is spreading across communities nationwide, but also on what help is needed here in White County, Seeds of Hope of TN is hosting two Town Hall style meetings. The meetings will take place at Christian Life First Assembly, located at 117 N. Spring St., in Sparta. The first of the meetings is taking place at 9 a.m., Nov. 13, with the second meeting at 11 a.m., Dec. 2.
“I ask each of you that would like to partner with us in trying to end homelessness in our town to come and attend one of our informational meetings,” Lomax encouraged. “It takes us all working together to truly make a difference.”
In addition to financial resources, Lomax said there is a need for volunteers willing to help with staying at the shelter as hosts overnight, preparing meals, helping with laundry, and stocking the pantry.
“Without enough volunteers, we can’t make this happen,” Lomax said, “and that means that our neighbors, including families with young children, will continue to not have shelter even when the temperatures drop below freezing during the winter months.”
Anyone interested in helping Seeds of Hope of TN in any way but who is unable to attend one of the two upcoming meetings is encouraged to contact Tina Lomax directly at (931) 303-6695. Donations can also be sent to Seeds of Hope of TN, 234 King St., Sparta.
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