As I’ve talked about before and as we all, as inhabitants of this Earth know, homelessness is a heartbreaking issue. The world is hard enough as it is, not to mention throwing in not having your own place to find shelter, and sleep, and eat, and try to get through the day without having a total breakdown. According to endhomelessness.org, on a single night in January of 2014, 578,424 Americans were experiencing homelessness – meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. Most of us can hardly imagine not having a comfy cozy place to relax, lay our heads, and feel safe after a hard day’s work – let alone sleeping outside.
Thankfully, humanity has a heart – seemingly a bleeding one when it comes to this issue. More and more organizations, initiatives, and do-gooders are coming up with innovative ways to approach and solve (or help) the homeless issue – even if only one person at a time. One of the latest attempts to take homelessness head on comes in the form of a cute little encouraging van, navigating its way around New York City…the “You Can Van.”
The You Can Van is one step ahead of the game…meaning their mission is to help the homeless before they become the homeless…a.k.a. they help people who are on the brink or at risk. The You Can Van is the brain child of CAMBA, a non-profit agency that “provides services that connect people with opportunities to enchance their quality of life.” The “Why We Exist” section of CAMBA’s website provides insight into what CAMBA does, and why the You Can Van is relevant:
“Many New Yorkers face daily hurdles such as chronic homelessness, HIV/AIDS, language barriers, domestic violence, necessary job skills, and more. Since 1977, CAMBA has responded to community needs by creating individualized service-oriented programming.”
The van uses big data to pinpoint which areas might have people who are at a greater risk of eviction and homelessness. Julie Beardwood, partner at the creative agency Beardwood&Co., who contributed to the van’s design pro-bono alongside Joe Marianek of Small Stuff, speaks about the project to FastCo:
“Many people are often fearful or reluctant to seek help or don’t even know where to go. It can also be difficult for people who are elderly, disabled, or have small children or jobs to physical get to HomeBase offices.”
HomeBase refers to another program run by CAMBA that works to prevent homeless on the front-end. It been extremely successful in keeping people off the streets; 95 percent of people in the program don’t end up losing their homes.
The van is purposefully vague, meant to pique the interest of innocent passersby. CAMBA wants people to ask “You can what?” Then, right on the spot, help is at the ready. Getting help from the You Can Van is as simple as starting a conversation. So what’s in the van? A lot! More specifically, there is a waiting area, two private offices, computers, and Wi-Fi. There are housing counselors and specialists inside to help provide risk assessment, intensive care management services, housing assistance, and community-based program referrals. In addition, CAMBA’s professional staff is on hand to help with legal issues such as housing court, landlord negations, and more. The van is projected to help 300 people a year keep grasp of their homes. Joanne M. Oplustil, President and CEO of CAMBA, is confident about the positive impact of the program:
“These innovative new strategies will help address the homeless crisis. Keeping vulnerable families and individuals in their homes – and out of expensive homeless shelters is far more cost-effective for tax-payers and much less destructive for families.”
Long gone are the days when homeless shelters where the only option for people at the end of their rope. Now, we have homeless initiatives that range from housing projects in the form trash reimagined as shelter, to communities that offer affordable housing in places where affordable housing is hard to find, to this – a initiative that takes initiative by addressing homelessness before it is an issue.
While homelessness seems like an uphill battle, it is one where action can make a difference, and it’s nice to see cities (both close to home and far away) fighting it full force. Do I think New York City and other cities (such as our very own DC) can make a difference? If this project is any inkling than I would say yes…you (we) can.