Opinion

Our Voice: We're grateful for those who care for the homeless

While a polar vortex attacks much of the country, we've been fairly sheltered in the Tri-Cities -- providing you actually have shelter to go to.

Being homeless is tough any time of the year, but more so in winter.

Homeless teens

Teens find themselves homeless for many reasons. Maybe they get kicked out of the family home. Maybe they aren't safe at home and choose to leave.

There are a lot of scenarios.

Some kids "couch surf" from friend to friend, some hunker down in one of the little-known "campouts." As a community, we do have an alternative. It's called My Friends Place and it's the only teen homeless shelter in the Tri-Cities.

The shelter provides a roof and food, but it also has rules and chores and helps kids get on their feet.

One challenge any agency that provides services like this faces is keeping the doors open. That takes money. Every nonprofit needs money. That's a given.

Another challenge for My Friends Place is developing trust. This is a concern with most teens, but especially those who have been abandoned in some way.

My Friends Place supervisor Daisy Vargas goes the extra mile -- literally -- when it comes to outreach. She visits camping spots and talks to kids, if she can find them. If not, she leaves some supplies and information for them.

It would be nice if we didn't need a homeless teen shelter, but we do. So we're grateful to have it and for the community support it gets.

Homeless count

It's hard to get good numbers for how many homeless people -- teens and adults -- we have in the Mid-Columbia. The nature of being homeless doesn't lend itself well to a census count.

Each year, however, the state sets aside a day in January to count the homeless. It requires volunteers who are willing to be out in the community and talking to people.

The count helps with funding. But there are faces behind the numbers. When you can locate homeless people, much like Daisy Vargas does, you can give them information.

Information is a powerful weapon.

This year's count is Jan. 23. Training for volunteers is Jan. 16.

For more information contact: Benton & Franklin Counties Department of Human Services.

Cheers!

While we're on the subject of homelessness, hats off to the local McDonald's restaurants for their December fundraiser. In honor of Adams Tri-City Enterprises' 40th anniversary, 40 cents from the sale of every drink during December was donated to the Union Gospel Mission. The event raised $125,000.

We'll drink to that! Who knew Mid-Columbians were such big drinkers?

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