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Linda Bergthold Headshot

Whatever Happened to Henrietta Hughes?

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I was just thinking about Henrietta Hughes the other day as I passed a man on a street corner holding a sign that said, "Every little bit helps". As you may remember, Henrietta was the woman who raised her hand at President Obama's Florida town hall a few months ago and asked for help because she and her son were homeless. For her twenty-four hours of fame, she did get the loan of a house owned by Representative Nick Thompson (R), whose generosity was widely applauded. However, as soon as the house sells, Henrietta and her son may be out on the streets again. And lack of affordable housing is one of the major factors in homelessness.

Usually what happens to these stories is that they have a short half-life, people forget, and the object of the story returns to their prior life, with not a whole lot to show for it. But Henrietta has actually received some help from homeless service organizations and some career help from the Career Center in Fort Myers. A few days ago, WINK News in Fort Myers did a follow up story on Henrietta. Not surprisingly, but still sad, is the fact that Henrietta still has no job and is running out of options. She has been taking computer classes, along with her adult son Corey, in the hope that they would be more qualified, but they are both in a job market that is likely filled with other applicants.

As the economy gets worse, those of us who still have jobs, will see more and more people on the street corner with signs and requests for assistance; we will bump into people outside stores asking for money or help. If you're like me, you'll feel guilty if you don't give them anything and ambivalent if you do, wondering what good it does anyway. What we will increasingly not be able to do is turn our heads.

In my prior post on Henrietta and homelessness, I wrote the following:

The problem of homelessness will not go away because we turn our heads. The Henrietta Hugheses of this country hopefully will keep asking us to pay attention. What will we as communities do about this? Because it really has to be a community solution. And, thankfully, there are a number of organizations addressing the problem with some very innovative solutions. The Jericho Project is one. And there are many others such as Beyond Shelter and Pathways to Housing.

After that post, I received some interesting information about Henrietta Hughes and some additional good resources. The Florida Civil Rights Association sent me an email saying they were helping to set up a way for Henrietta to receive donations. I don't know if it worked or how much she got, but you could email them and ask. Their email is info@fcranews.com and the person to contact is J. Willie David.

I also heard from a staff member at the National Alliance to End Homelessness who had some additional ideas about how to help Henrietta and others like her.

While the $1.5 billion in the stimulus bill is great for providing emergency aid, the National Housing Trust Fund can help with providing more affordable housing long-term. There are chronically homeless people who need housing with supportive services first and foremost (a philosophy known as Housing First, which saves money over providing emergency services while they're living on the street); and there are families (like Henrietta Hughes) and other homeless people who just need a one-time "boost" to stay off the streets or to get rapidly re-housed.
As for donations, I would direct people to the Florida Coalition for the Homeless or you can call the Continuum of Care down there to find out what housing programs people should donate to. They can also donate to us (money would go towards fighting for more affordable housing nationally). Thanks again for focusing on the issue!

Whatever happens to Henrietta, is actually happening to all of us, in one way or another. Government can't solve this problem, but communities can. Doing nothing at all is not an option.

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