BY JIM VARGAS, NEVILLE BILLIMORIA
NOV. 11, 2021 11:33 AM PT
Vargas is president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, and a member of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Community Voices Project. He lives in La Jolla. Billimoria is senior vice president of marketing and membership at Mission Fed Credit Union and lives in Cardiff.
Each day in the San Diego region, thousands of people rely on a warm meal or a box of food provided by service centers and food banks across the county, and others depend on lunches or snacks provided by their schools or workplaces. Too many people in our community must make the devastating choice of choosing between groceries and paying rent. Too many of our neighbors go to sleep on the sidewalks of our neighborhoods, empty of food and hope.
No one, no matter where they come from or who they are, should know hunger or be forced to sleep on the streets. Yet hunger and homelessness are everyday experiences for many people throughout San Diego County.
According to the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness’ 2020 We All Count report, more than 7,600 people experience homelessness on any given night countywide. Hunger is also pervasive; one in three residents of San Diego County, or over 1 million people, were nutrition insecure in March with no guarantee where their next meal would come from.
This is a large problem because hunger is more than just the discomfort of an empty stomach. Regular, nutritious food prevents illnesses that can cause issues during a person’s journey out of homelessness. A lack of consistent, nutritious food is associated with both short- and long-term health problems, including heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, pulmonary disease and kidney disease. Furthermore, food provides the energy adults experiencing homelessness need to overcome obstacles to housing and employment and the sustenance that children need for health development and success in school.
Service providers like Father Joe’s Villages provide thousands of meals per day and provide up to 2,500 beds of shelter in the community each night. However, community organizations cannot address hunger and homelessness on their own.
That’s why Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is observed annually to raise awareness of the prevalence of hunger and homelessness across the U.S. and encourage communities to take action to address these issues. From Nov. 13 to 21, people and groups come together to draw attention to the oft-intertwined problems of hunger and homelessness through education, advocacy, participation in local events, donations, and activation through volunteering.
This year, Father Joe’s Villages and Mission Fed Credit Union are joining together to call on the community to take definitive action.
Working together, our community has the power to raise the awareness, resources and funds needed to address homelessness and food insecurity. We have talented, hardworking people who are keen to make a difference in their communities. We just need to put resources where they will be needed most and mobilize the community to make a difference.
We can all start with awareness. We as a community must understand just how widespread hunger is in our region and the impacts hunger and homelessness can have on the well-being and long-term success of men, women and children. We must be loud and clear with our friends, family, co-workers and social media followers: Hunger and homelessness hurt our community.
But it doesn’t end there. We must prioritize community-focused solutions to tackle both hunger and homelessness head-on. In our own communities, we can hold food and clothing drives or volunteer at shelter. We can donate food, goods and money to support service providers in our neighborhoods providing food, shelter and resources to people in need. And we can let our legislators and officials throughout San Diego County know that funding affordable housing and supporting measures to increase access to food is critical to the health of our entire region.
Then, and only then, can we come closer to ensuring that no one, no matter their age or income, will suffer from hunger or homelessness in our community