Say "homelessness" and the streets of Chicago, New York or Los Angeles tend to come to mind -- not McCook, Benkelman or Curtis.
Those local towns should, according to Kathy Mesner of the Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness, and 2012 chairwoman of Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week being observed this week.
"Homelessness exists in every city and village in the State of Nebraska," Mesner said. "The faces of the homeless belong to men and women of all ages. They also belong to children and veterans. Please help the Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness in its work to end homelessness by contacting your local housing support providers. Your contributions of time or money are necessary to identify and address the needs of our homeless Nebraska families."
On any given night in 2012, there are 3,554 homeless individuals across Nebraska, according to a release from the commission. That includes 1,295 in Omaha, 981 in Lincoln and 1,278 in Greater Nebraska.
Our bet is that those numbers are low.
Barb Ostrum of the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska said she's concerned about homeless kids -- forced into "couch surfing," doubling up with friends or living in garages or other unsuitable shelter -- who now may be in danger from the cold, the same way they were in danger from the brutal heat this summer. Low-cost housing has been in short supply ever since the St. Catherine apartments closed, she said, and landlords are become more and more restrictive.
The nearest homeless shelter is North Platte, she said, but getting homeless people there is difficult and expensive, with no public transportation running north and south.
Officially, the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness in four different categories:
* People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, in transitional housing or in an institution where they temporarily resided.
* People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled-up situation, within 14 days, and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing.
* Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state.
* People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.
On this day when we honor our veterans, it's good to remember that many of them fall into the homeless category cited by Mesner. As the calendar rolls into a traditional time of abundance -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays -- it's time to think about diverting some of those blessings from ourselves to those who don't know where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep tonight.
In McCook, some of the best ways to support Ostrum's Mid-Nebraska program and other services is by supporting United Way, the McCook Pantry or, as mentioned in an Open Forum letter today, donating to -- or participating in -- the Salvation Army's annual Kettle Campaign. Call Traci Taylor, campaign coordinator, at (308) 350-0904.