Have you ever wondered where you'll sleep at night?
We don't mean just the casual road-tripper's flight of fancy, where free-spirited individuals travel without an itinerary or schedule. Those people typically have a smartphone and a credit card, which means they might not know where they'll stop-but they know it will be somewhere safe, warm, and on their own terms.
Not everyone has that luxury, as evidenced by the 2015 Statewide Point in Time Homeless Count.
According to a story in our Wednesday edition, the count, conducted on Jan. 27, recorded 1,036 homeless people in South Dakota. Sixteen individuals were counted in Davison County. Nine were children.
While 87 percent of the people found shelter the night of the count, 13 percent didn't. About 15 percent planned to sleep outside that night.
Think of that. In January, one of the coldest months in a state known for harsh winters, about 155 people slept outside. On Jan. 27, the day of the count, the temperatures were relatively mild: in Mitchell, we saw a high of 49 degrees and a low of 28, according to the National Weather Service.
But earlier in the month, on Jan. 7, the high was just 2 degrees. The low was minus 7. It's a safe bet that there were nearly as many people seeking shelter on Jan. 7 as Jan. 27, and temperatures like that create life-threatening conditions.
The Point in Time Homeless Count was conducted by the South Dakota Housing for the Homeless Consortium in collaboration with other agencies. According to survey officials, the statewide count is just a snapshot of homelessness in South Dakota. Only 37 of South Dakota's 66 counties reported to Housing for the Homeless, due at least in part to the vast land area in some of the more rural counties. And there aren't enough volunteers to cover those miles.
Translation: There are likely more homeless than reported-hundreds more, maybe.
Housing Research and Development Officer Lisa Bondy pointed to the stigma associated with homelessness, noting that there are so many reasons why a person might be on the street. It can happen to anyone-the elderly, displaced veterans, people with mental health issues, people with disabilities. Mothers, fathers, sisters, uncles, cousins. And, yes-even children. We as a society have an obligation to look out for the most vulnerable members of our community.
So, what are we going to do about this, Davison County? Wring our hands and say, "Oh, how sad"? Judge people for not having the same circumstances that we do? Even if you've worked hard for everything you've got and had nothing handed to you, that's no excuse to turn a blind eye to neighbors in need. We Midwesterners pride ourselves on how helpful and friendly we are. That should extend to everyone, not just the people we think deserve our help.
The Mitchell Public Comment Meeting on the draft 10-year plan to end homelessness will be held at noon on July 21 at the James Valley Community Center's North Room in Mitchell. The address is 929 E. Second Ave.
Attend. Participate. Speak up. Let's work together and make sure that at the next January count, there are no more homeless men and women on the street, and no more children left out in the cold. It's just one of the many ways we can make our community even better-for everyone.