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VOL. 127 | NO. 254 | Monday, December 31, 2012

Spirit of Giving

Local organizations offer assistance to the area’s homeless during holidays


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For several thousand homeless Memphians, the winter months can be especially rough being exposed to the harsh elements without money, food or warm clothing.

Baptist Memorial Health Care employees serve food to the homeless at the “Tree of Faith, Hope, and Love” event on Dec. 19. Baptist and other organizations took time to give back during the holiday season.

(Photo Courtesy of Greg Campbell; Baptist Memorial Health Care)

Several local organizations and volunteers took time to give back during this holiday season by donating warm clothes, preparing hot meals and providing health care for those less fortunate just as the first signs of freezing conditions and snow hit the area.

There are currently a record number of homeless people on the streets in Shelby County. Homelessness has increased sharply over the past five years, according to a point-in-time annual report from Community Alliance for the Homeless Inc.

Between 2008 and 2012, homelessness in the Mid-South increased 32.5 percent, and between 2011 and 2012 overall homelessness increased 7 percent. Family homelessness remained at the same level as five years ago (214 families this year versus 215 families five years ago), while single individual homelessness increased 38 percent during that same period, from 1,007 people in 2008 to 1,386 in 2012. A total of 2,063 units of housing were provided to homeless people in Shelby County in early 2012, an increase of 300 units from 2011.

During the week leading up to Christmas, the Baptist Operation Outreach van held its annual event to hand out backpacks with essential supplies for the cold winter months. An estimated 300 of Memphis’ homeless population attended the Baptist’s “Tree of Faith, Hope, and Love” event on Dec. 19 at? 85 N. Cleveland St. in the Downtown Memphis Athletic Ministries gymnasium to receive some good food, along with warm clothing and hygienic supplies for use during the next few months.

“All of the backpack items were donated by employees of Baptist Memorial Health Care,” said Cynthia Allen, Baptist’s community relations manager. “Employees pulled a tag that listed items to keep our homeless population warm this season. Items given included thermals, hats, gloves, and personal care products.”

Baptist employees served hot meals to all who attended.

Next on the calendar for Baptist Operation Outreach is its year-round mission for 2013 to continue serving the homeless.

“The Baptist Operation Outreach health care van for the homeless is a mobile health care unit designed to address the health needs of the homeless in Memphis and currently serves an average of 3,000 patients a year,” Allen said. “Started in 2003, the van provides year-round, four-days-a-week acute and primary care, disease prevention information and guidance to Memphians without permanent housing. Baptist Operation Outreach also provides medication and free transportation to and from medical appointments.”

The van operates through a partnership with Christ Community Church.

Community Alliance for the Homeless conducted a survey in the City of Memphis early last year that showed that the Baptist Operation Outreach van as the largest provider for the homeless in Shelby County, serving 33 percent of the homeless population at no cost.

Elsewhere in the city, on Christmas Day the House of Mtenzi Museum at 1289 Madison Ave. held its annual Operation Warm-Up event to offer hot soup and provide warm-up kits with winter essentials for people in need across Memphis. This is the 10th year for the event.

The group collects clothes and shoes for the event from the community throughout the year, giving everyone a chance to give back and make a difference. The next House of Mtenzi event to assist the homeless will take place in February.

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