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The Most Invisible

The annual count of the homeless population was done last Thursday night. This count, orchestrated locally by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, is an important means of knowing how many homeless individuals are being served in area shelters and transitional housing programs, along with how many people are found on the streets and in camps. This count is reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the purposes of planning and benchmarking progress. Hundreds of volunteers participate and the night can be an eye-opening experience or even a life-changing moment for many.

In the past two years however, I have become increasingly concerned about who is not counted. Those homeless individuals living in cars, on and off in motels, or in abandoned buildings far away from the concentrated corridors of homeless individuals in east Fort Worth are usually not counted. These uncounted homeless are most likely to be women and women with children. They are a growing part of the homeless population but the least understood and least noticed. But they turn to the Center for Transforming Lives. Every. Day.

These homeless mothers are very likely to be working, even full-time, but don't earn enough to pay their rent. They are afraid for their own safety as well as the safety of their children. They are afraid their children will be taken away from them or they are already separated from their children because of the complexities of homelessness.

We've had some really cold nights recently. I try to put myself in the mother's shoes. Feeling the cold, the dark, the sense of powerlessness, trying to comfort a crying child in the back seat who is keeping everyone else awake. How could I sleep? Where would I find food? Handle homework? All but impossible. To stay safe, they try to attract little attention, but this invisibility often means they don't get the help they need.

Hundreds of women contact us every month at the Center for Transforming Lives. In the past year we've responded beyond our usual programs, putting a handful of women and children in motels or paying emergency rent to keep families in their home for a short time. These actions are taken on a case by case basis, and a few amazing donors on my emergency needs short list respond generously. But more women and children need our help: we need to do more so that they don't remain trapped in homelessness.

Women and children who are homeless are the most invisible to the community. But not to you. Not to us.