Sleeping in a box to incite change

True story. A few days ago, I received a phone call from a young lady who we will call “Andrea” about a personal and imminent situation she is facing. Andrea will be turning 18 this weekend and has been in foster care since she was 12. She has a job and got her high school GED, and wants to continue working and going to school. She also is a single mom, with a young daughter. She has saved up enough money for a security deposit, along with first and last month’s rent, but is finding with the current rental market in Nashua, that the landlords she has approached won’t even consider renting to her without references. So, in a few short days, she will be homeless, and she is scared.

We worked with Andrea and connected her to several of our Greater Nashua Transitional Housing Programs and it looks promising for her to be entering one of those programs where she will be able to continue working, going to school, raising her daughter and, ultimately, get a place of her own. Let’s be clear: This young lady desires to do the right thing to get her life in order, but due to circumstances is in need of a hand up to succeed. Not a hand out … a hand up. What would happen if such a program didn’t exist? In all likelihood, Andrea would quickly find herself and her child homeless, doubling up with friends, in her car, under a bridge or worse.

With more than 300 young people in the Nashua School District in similar situations, we decided this year to focus our attention at our annual sleep out on youth homelessness. In addition to youth homelessness, we also will be discussing in-depth the issue of human trafficking. Many people don’t believe that human trafficking – whether it’s for sexual exploitation or for work – exists in our community. But it does, and is a larger problem than you might imagine. Human traffickers have an innate and horrifying ability to locate and target the most vulnerable populations for exploitation … and homeless youth are absolutely tops on that list. In addition to these two topics, we will be digging into the subjects of mental illness and substance use disorders, especially as they relate to homelessness as root causes.

This event, now in its second year, is an opportunity for a deep conversation about some of these very serious issues. Our belief at United Way is that it’s very important to focus on the tough topics, even if they are sometimes a little bit uncomfortable. The event also is a fundraiser, with participants asking their friends, family and colleagues for donations to support their efforts to “sleep in a box.” Last year, the event raised almost $70,000 for our community, with the funds being dispersed through our investment process to the 19 different partner agencies that have programs that work at breaking the cycle of poverty. These programs include after-school programs so that children can learn and be safe, while parents work and support their families; investments to increase high school graduation rates so that young people can get the best possible start in life; supports for access to health care and dental care for low-income children and adults who cannot afford insurance; and supports for programs that deliver food and social connections to our homebound, low-income, elderly populations. Our core belief is that by investing in all of these programs, that the outcome will be a healthier, stronger and more successful community.

I would invite you to join us in “Sleeping United to End Homelessness and Hunger” next Friday and Saturday at the Nashua Community College.

To learn more, please go to www.tinyurl.com/sleepout2017, where you can see a video from last year’s event, sign up, donate and join us. We look forward to seeing you there, and we thank you for doing everything you can to LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is President of the United Way of Greater Nashua.