Night at the Mission

Lighthouse Rescue Mission resident Marty Mather walks down a hallway on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012 inside the Nampa shelter.

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What does it mean to be homeless?

For many, the word conjures up images of someone living in a cardboard box in an abandoned lot. For some, anything less than that isn’t really homelessness. They might bristle when they hear that children who are staying with friends or relatives temporarily would be designated homeless, regarding that as an attempt to portray the problem as being worse than it really is.

Housing and Urban Development defines homeless as people who come from “places not meant for human habitation.” And the Treasure Valley, just like the rest of the nation, has its share of people who meet that description. There are people here who are living in cars, on the street or hidden from view. And the number has grown.

Nampa’s Lighthouse Rescue Mission, which serves the homeless, had a total of 16,533 lodgings in 2006. That number has increased each year, and today it’s 25,854.

Idaho is a state that champions independence and, as such, its citizens tend to be suspicious of government-funded welfare programs. There is very much a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality here.

But that shouldn’t be confused as indifference to the plight of the truly needy. And the evidence shows that Idahoans put their money where their mouths are when it comes to helping the homeless.

Numerous churches of many denominations work generously, often with no fanfare, to put together food and clothing drives. Of the $417,484 our Salvation Army received in income, just $112,000 of that came from fees and grants from government agencies. The rest came in the form of donations of one kind or another.

Community support also helped the Nampa Family Shelter Coalition assist homeless people in Nampa until they could get back on their feet. The coalition last week donated $1.1 million to pay off the shelter built in 2002 on land donated by the LDS Church and gifted the facility to the Salvation Army.

But the nagging recession has forced more people who were living on the fringes into a position where they needed help. It has also made it harder for people who donate to such causes to help, and that has stretched overwhelmed charities.

Terry Reilly Health Services, which provides health care services to the needy, was only able to serve 1,829 people in 2011 who were homeless. There was not enough money available to serve the remaining homeless patients who requested it.

Today begins our special eight-day coverage on homelessness in Canyon County. It’s a great opportunity for you to learn more about the situation, and how we can all help. Take the time to educate yourself — and to find out how you can help make a difference in the life of someone who really needs it.

• Read Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook’s column on Main 5.

• Our view is based on the majority opinions of the Idaho Press-Tribune editorial board. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges and community members Kim Keller, Carlos Soriano, Timothy Brown, Taylor Raney, Ken Pieksma and Nicole Gibbs.

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