Without a place to call home

When Duane and I returned to the farm from a meeting in Kansas City, we entered a winter wonderland. The pine trees look like a holiday postcard; the barn appeared to be from an old time movie. The snow sparkled like Jack Frost had just blown frozen crystals through the air. Coming inside our house, the warm air greeted me with comfort. We are the lucky ones who have a place to call home. I have been thinking about the forecast for the winter storms this week, realizing that it will not be a merry Christmas for people who are homeless or a happy new year for anyone without a warm place to eat and sleep.
We are close to Madison, Wisconsin, and don’t have to go very far to see people who are homeless on corners with signs asking for money for food, bundled up on steps of buildings or huddled in city bus shelters trying to get out of the weather to stay warm.
There is a stigma that hovers around these people: They have mental illness and addictions; they are troubled folk.
While many do have these problems, each one is someone’s child, sibling, mother, father, husband or wife. Each one has their own situation or story, and they lost their home. Many lost their family. They all are people who need a little help.
The unhoused population is not just an urban problem. Rural people and families having financial struggles can find themselves in a bad situation. Hardship and hunger are everywhere. It only takes one person in a family getting sick. Anyone can become hit with a lack of income, large medical bills, domestic or substance abuse, or not being able to pay rent or mortgage payments. It doesn’t take long before one becomes evicted or has their home foreclosed on. Many will stay with a friend or family for a while, or they live in their vehicle. Oftentimes, people still have jobs and families but cannot afford housing and other expenses.
The lack of affordable housing has been a huge problem, and once someone is evicted or foreclosed, that housing history follows them for the rest of their lives. What is available often comes with high rents. People need help, but often, they don’t know where the shelters are or where to look.
There are many teenagers and young adults who are couch surfing or sleeping over with friends. Some have left their homes because of violence or abuse, or they were kicked out because they were themselves the problem. Compared to older people, young people are often considered the invisible homeless. Whether they are currently unhoused or experiencing periods of homelessness, whatever their story, they are in need of food to eat and a warm place to stay. These are people who deserve respect and kindness rather than being ignored. A smile or kind word, a bowl of soup and a place to relax can make a difference in everyone’s day.
Soup kitchens and community meals that feed everyone who attends are becoming more common in rural areas as well as urban areas. Church groups and other nonprofit organizations have popped up to feed and clothe the homeless and provide a warm place to sleep. These organizations rely on donations of food, money, clothing and volunteers to carry out the work that is needed to give the gift of love and compassion. They are working year round, but the need during winter is critical.
We are going to be experiencing our first winter storm crisis this week. Shelters will be full and turning away people. People will die outside during this bitter cold spell. Please consider donating food, money, gift cards or clothes, especially underwear and socks. Give the gift of your time by volunteering to serve food, prepare meals and collect donations. Reach out to community meal programs in your area and help make this a merry Christmas and happy new year to others who are less fortunate.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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