As millions prepare to celebrate Christmas, many look past the frantic shopping and gift exchange to the underlying meaning of the holiday in the original Christmas story. Set aside Santa Claus and look back to the family that ended up finding housing in a stable and laid their child in the animal’s food trough.
On Christmas Eve, two thousand years later, families and individuals are still without shelter, even as the clouds darken for another rain storm here in Ventura.
Despite our own economic constraints, Ventura is part of a national effort to end homelessness. One of the brightest legacies of the Bush Administration is the effort spearheaded by Phillip Mangano, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Mangano challenged decades of acceptance of homelessness as a problem to be minimized and managed, instead of ended. His vision and energy has inspired localities across the nation to pull together government, civic, charitable, faith and business leaders and institutions to devise “10 Year Plans to End Homelessness.” Although no one has yet succeeded, until the economic crisis hit, the cities and communities that pioneered this effort were finally making progress on that remarkable goal.
Ventura has its own 22 point plan that you can read here on the website for the Ventura County Homeless and Housing Coalition. The most ambitious plans to provide housing face daunting challenges for funding. But already more than $30,000 has been raised privately to keep families from becoming homeless — by far the most economical way of reducing the number of families on the streets.
In fact, the program was recently singled out as one of the most promising innovations in the nation by the US Interagency Council. You can read more about it on their website here.
Councilmember Neal Andrews, who chairs the Council ad hoc committee on homelessness (Mayor Christy Weir and Councilmember Ed Summers serve with him on it) has been a tireless champion of the idea, along with Karl Keller, who chairs the Ventura Social Services Task Force. Churches, the Rotary, the United Way and numerous individuals have led the fundraising efforts.
One church, the Ventura Unitarian Universalist Church, raised $2900 for the fund. They also sponsored a recent rememberance of homeless people throughout Ventura County during the last year (Ventura County Star photo at right.)
There are many ways to give at this time of year. But perhaps none is more fitting for people of all faiths than to ensure that “the least of these” can find shelter in the year ahead.