Where did you sleep last night?


Where did you sleep last night?

Did you have your own warm bed to sleep in under the roof of a home you “call your own”? Do you have clothes to wear? Do you have three meals to eat every day?

Unfortunately, not everyone can answer “yes” to these questions.

Some answer “no” to all of them.

On a single night in January 2016, over 549,928 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development. A majority (68%) was staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens, and 32 percent were in unsheltered locations.

Over one-fifth of people experiencing homelessness were children (22%), 69 percent were over the age of 24, and nine percent were between the ages of 18 and 24.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people experiencing homelessness declined by three percent. Declines were composed entirely of people staying in sheltered locations (which declined by 5%). Homelessness increased among people staying in unsheltered locations (by 2%).

On that same night, 5,051 people in South Carolina were homeless, some of those in Barnwell County.

In actuality, the number was probably higher as finding and counting the homeless is a difficult job.

To experience their plight, Jess Wilbanks of the Barnwell County United Way spent the night outside on Thursday, Jan. 26. She was lucky. The temperature only dipped into the low 50s. By the weekend it would be freezing.

“My experience last week showed how un-nerving it can be to sleep outside. Good rest is difficult when a person is cold, uncomfortable, and continually woken up by startling noises,” said Wilbanks afterwards.

On Saturday, she along with other adults went with First Baptist Church youth to do community service and learn about the homeless.

Wilbanks related, “Merge students and adult volunteers from Barnwell First Baptist walked the path Saturday through town where many people without transportation walk from the Legion Ministry Soup Kitchen to Axis I to receive services daily. Along the way they picked up litter and removed debris from the roadside and property behind and between Wall and Jackson Streets.”

“Some surprising items discovered were old office furniture and seven tires. While helping, students could tell where homeless people have stayed in the past with clothing and shoes left behind in a laundry basket and poles from pitching tents.”

“Walking the path across the center of town and facing the challenge of debris along the way was insightful for these students. They learned more about how a homeless person survives and why it’s important to keep our community litter free for everyone’s safety. Just to be clear, it is my estimation much of the litter is thrown from cars, as trash was mostly along the roadside and not along the footpath.”

Wilbanks says homeless people need our help.

Some items homeless people need include tents, sleeping bags, foam mats, gloves, hand warmers, Chapstick, flashlights, batteries, hygiene wipes, coats, backpacks, luggage with wheels, easy-open cans of food and shoes made for walking.

These are constant needs for people struggling to survive on a daily basis.

Homelessness is a complex issue.

It’s not a matter of laziness or choosing to be homeless. It’s often bad circumstances that one can’t plan for, including sickness, job loss, losing a home, mental health issues and family problems.

Getting back into a safe, sheltered situation can be extremely complex.

Tackling this issue as a community is even more complex.

It’s going to take a lot of work to bring about positive change.

To find out what you can do to assist the homeless in Barnwell County, contact the Barnwell County United Way, Axis 1 or lend your assistance to local soup kitchens.