According to Metro-wide Engagement for Shelter and Housing, for just one night, it costs $32 for an adult and $125 for a minor to be in a shelter. On any given night, 600,000 Americans experience homelessness, of which 138,000 are children. But who ends up in these shelters?
Americans needing shelters have a long history. According to the History of Homelessness, displacement of people has many causes: wars, medical problems, widowhood and racial inequities, to name a few. During the 1820s, people began migrating from farms to cities in search of jobs. Because so many could not find employment, they began walking the streets. This caused the country's first panhandling ordinances and city jails became de facto shelter systems. Poor safety regulation caused physical disability and death. The disabled and widows, many with dependent children, became the next wave of homeless. In the 1850s came the first documented cases of homeless youth, many of them kicked out of their homes because their parents could no longer afford to raise them.
The Civil War was the first war in which morphine was used. And with that, opiate addiction came to the hundreds of thousands of war veterans. The Sears catalog sold morphine and heroin with syringes in its earlier days in the 1890s. The Civil War was the start of what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Whereas all types of shelters are needed in our country, one of the newest movements are domestic violence shelters. Domestic violence isn't anything new. According to Saint Martha's Hall, domestic abuse was common in Europe and women would hide in convents to escape the violence in their homes. British Common Law allowed a man to hit his wife with a stick no greater than the length from the last joint to the end of the thumb. In 1871, Alabama and Massachusetts became the first states to criminalize domestic violence. But it wasn't until over a century later, in 1973, that the Women's Advocates opened the country's first domestic violence shelter.
By 1983 there were 700 shelters for abused women in operation across the country, serving 91,000 women and 131,000 children. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA funds services for victims of domestic violence and rape. It also provides training to increase police and court officials' sensitivity to domestic abuse. Between 1994 and 2000, $1.6 billion was spent to jumpstart VAWA. Its reauthorization in 2000 created a legal assistance program for victims and expanded the definition of crime to include dating violence and stalking. VAWA spent $745 million in 2014. Today, there are over 2,300 women's shelters across the U.S.
Providing shelter for those in need cannot be solved by the government alone, especially in times of government gridlock and lack of funds. This is a major problem that affects all of us. Those that need help could be the war hero that dedicated their life to protecting our country or the woman down the street who was hurt by an abusive husband.
There are many ways we, as the average citizen, can help make a difference by donating to these shelters. The Covenant House opens up its doors to help homeless youth. Stand Up For Kids helps homeless street kids. Support Homeless Veterans works to get forgotten heroes off the street. Women's Shelters.org connects people to over 2,300 women's shelters. And at DollarDays, on our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 in products to 18 shelters across the country. Nominate the shelters in your community to benefit from this giveaway.
It hurts everyone when our neighbors have to seek out shelters. Our society suffers when we deny children a good night's sleep and a nourishing meal. Our communities suffer when a veteran loses out on the shot to attain the American Dream. This is not a political or religious issue; it's a moral issue that our society needs to embrace. With a little help from all of us, these 600,000 Americans can find shelter for another night.