For the fifth year, YWCA Dayton’s Preble County Office co-hosted One Night Without A Home, a community sleep-out during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The event — also hosted by Home Is The Foundation and Preble County Habitat for Humanity — is an opportunity for housed persons to spend a night outside to discuss, think, and learn about homelessness to help promote advocacy, awareness, and education. While the 2020 event looked different due to COVID-19, cancelling was not an option, organizers said.
“It’s not easy to plan an event like this during a pandemic, and we considered cancelling, but we didn’t get to cancel homelessness because of the pandemic; in fact, homelessness is more difficult and dangerous because of COVID-19,” explained Courtney Griffith, director of rural strategy for YWCA Dayton.
YWCA Dayton has provided safe, affordable housing for all of its 150 years. In 1871, our Widows Home sheltered destitute women; today, more than 175 women and families are helped by YW housing programs each year.
Women and girls’ vulnerability to homelessness and housing insecurity is highly associated with factors related to intimate-partner violence, child marriage, lack of access to high-wage occupations, human trafficking, and lack of access to childcare. 1 in 4 homeless women are homeless mainly because of their experiences with violence, and more than half (57 percent) of homeless women cite sexual or domestic violence as the direct cause of their homelessness.
Additionally, homelessness is one of the most visible manifestations of racial inequity: structural racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias in housing and employment have led to an over-representation of racial minorities experiencing homelessness. African-Americans make up 40 percent of the homeless population, but only 13 percent of the general population.
While the One Night Without A Home event traditionally sees community leaders and organizations camping out in front of the Preble County Courthose overnight, in keeping with pandemic safety protocols, participants attended a distanced candlelight vigil and were encouraged to camp out at their own homes.
Toni Morgan, executive director of Preble County Habitat for Humanity, led the vigil ceremony. “If you take anything away from tonight, I pray it is the significance of light. It is important for us to shed light on the invisible people in our county and make others aware of the homeless issues people are facing every single day,” she said. “Living in homelessness is a dark place to be, and we have the opportunity to shine our light into their lives. Local organizations have lots of ways that you can help: working a shift at the cold shelter, making a donation, cooking a shelter meal, volunteering for an event; it can also be as simple as a conversation, a smile, a hug, or a prayer. What does that look like for you? Can you be someone whose light inspires others to shine more brightly?”