According to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness increased in the U.S. between 2016 and 2017 — the first time in seven years. Not only that, but homelessness rose by 3.6 percent in New York state within the past year. Though alarming, it is easy to brush statistics aside — numbers are impersonal and are often hard to relate to.
But the increase in the homeless population in Ithaca and the surrounding area is quite visible. Ithaca Rescue Mission filled all its beds this past summer, students take part-time jobs during the school year, and the price of living in Ithaca keeps on increasing as the years go by — it’s becoming harder and harder to survive and thrive in the area. Thus, new incarnations of “The Jungle” — the community of homeless individuals living in wooded areas around Ithaca — keep popping up, despite efforts to eradicate the problem.
The homelessness crisis in Ithaca is an issue of both affordable living and affordable housing. If someone isn’t a student or living with a comfortable salary, then it becomes seemingly impossible to live in the area. Market Watch ranked Ithaca as the eighth most expensive place in the country in which to raise a family. The odds are simply stacked against people trying to find housing.
Most students at Ithaca College are coming from a place of privilege. Not every student at the college comes from a wealthy background. But it is not cheap to come to the college — most students have at least some level of financial stability. With that privilege, students at the college can try and make a difference.
It may seem daunting to try and solve a national problem, but it’s much simpler than that. College students can spend a fraction of their free time volunteering at soup kitchens or with organizations that aim to build affordable housing, like Second Wind Cottages or Habitat for Humanity. Students can donate a little bit of money — even their spare change — to fundraisers that are trying to help shelters, food pantries and other organizations in the area.
Homelessness is a systemic problem, yes, but that does not mean that it is impossible to make a difference in a single person’s life. Helping ease the homelessness crisis does not require a Herculean effort from a single person; rather, it can be ameliorated by the compassion and efforts of students.