It’s hunger and homelessness awareness week, and today we’re going to talk about homelessness and the Micah Day Center.

Homelessness is a surprisingly large problem in the United States. On any given night, almost 550,000 Americans are homeless. Some are sleeping on the streets, in the woods, or even in parking garages. Others are in shelters. Still others are couch surfing. If we were using the definitions provided by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, we’d say that some of these people are ‘primarily homeless’ (they live on the streets) and others are ‘secondarily homeless’ (they don’t have a usual place of residence). Homelessness has many different faces. And, of course, it’s not the same 550,000 people every night of the year; many, many more people experience homelessness at some point during the year.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, that includes more than 2,500 people in Mississippi (we weren’t able to find county-by-county data).

Back Bay Mission serves homeless people in our area through a variety of ministries. People experiencing homelessness use our food pantry, garden in God’s Green Acre, take art classes, and participate in other programs. We are here for our homeless guests in many ways.

Out best-known ministry for people experiencing homelessness is the Micah Day Center. The Micah Center provides a one-stop shop where guests (and we make sure to think of people as guests, not clients) can access several services. People can take showers, have laundry done, use phones and computers, receive mail, and meet with the case workers. We also invite other agencies in to work with guests, including people who work on housing and job placement. The vital ministry works with guests where they’re at, making sure that they have what they need to survive homelessness and ready to serve people who are ready to move forward.

Giving some statistics for the food pantry yesterday was easy. After all, everyone who comes to the food pantry receives the same basic service (food) and can only come every so often (once every thirty days). The Micah Day Center, though, offers many services and people can come every day that it’s open. And homelessness is a ‘wicked’ problem, one visit isn’t going to solve it.

Here’s what we found when we looked through the data. Out of the hundreds of people who visited the Micah Day Center in 2015 and 2016, about half used no more than five services. That might be five different services on one day, the same service five times on five different days, or anything in between. Over 80% used no more than 19 services.

It’s hard to tell quite what that means. Maybe people are using the Micah Center for a while and then moving on to other providers. Maybe people are transiently homeless and find housing after a short time. We don’t know. But we do know that relatively few people are using the program over the long term. And, during the time that they’re coming to the Micah Center, we’re helping them meet basic needs and connect with the services they need. The Micah Day Center, like the food pantry, is a vital helping hand for people experiencing homelessness.

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