This holiday season many of us are looking forward to nestling into our couch and looking out our frost-covered windows, appreciating the warmth and fortune of having a place to call our home. The cold months ahead remind us of our lives and the paths we have taken to get us through the coming New Year.

But the cold truth is that there are thousands of homeless men and women around us who do not have the luxury of a place to call home. We are all a part of this, whether we try to be or not, because inaction can be just as impactful as action; and the reality is that no matter what action you take to help those in need, all human beings strive for symbiosis. People need people.

While the primary cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing, people with disabilities are over represented among persons experiencing homelessness.

The constant stress that comes with struggling to get the help they need can easily traumatize a person, especially if they are already past victims of trauma. Victims of trauma are vulnerable to experiencing homelessness; in fact 92 percent of homeless women are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. This is only bolstered by the reality that homelessness is, in itself, a traumatic experience; so those unfortunate enough to be experiencing street homelessness are, every day, experiencing an unconscionable amount of trauma.

Furthermore, trauma can easily lead to mental illnesses such as major depression, anxiety, and most prevalently, post-traumatic stress disorder. The majority of us have witnessed or experienced some form of trauma at some point in our lives, but most of us have the resources, support, and tools to overcome such experiences.

While most of us have a helping hand when we fall, not all of us choose to be that helping hand to strangers in desperate need.

Fortunately, Philadelphia is leading the charge to end homelessness in our country. The city supports a hotline 24-hours a day, seven-days a week at 215-232-1984. The hotline is for all citizens who are concerned about someone living on our streets. The hotline staff will ask for the person's location, description, and other helpful details. Hotline staff will also call back to concerned citizens to share the outcome of the outreach engagement.

The director of the Outreach Coordination Center, Carol Thomas explains it this way, "When it's winter, we have a better chance of making those connections due to the cold. But Outreach builds the relationships all year long. Our goal is to save lives and help people leave a life of homelessness behind."

Outreach agencies send staff every day to build relationships with people on the street. In that relationship building process, they try to address the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. The ultimate goal is housing, most often supportive housing. The goal of the continuum of supportive housing in Philadelphia is for each person to work to develop an individualized plan that functions to meet their specific wishes and needs. With the cold coming, it is ever more important that those experiencing street homelessness get this help; but they are not the only ones who need it.

"We won't give up," states outreach worker Kevin Norris, "outreach is out here for you." These teams consist of dedicated and selfless individuals, such as Kahlil Munford, who wrote: "I believe the work we do is important not for those who benefit by coming in off the streets. But it gives us who perform the job a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves, and a feeling that we are all family, caring for one another, because one day the same individual that I extended a helping hand to could be the one to help me in some way."

Ending homelessness is, and always will be, about people. Sam Vasquez, who is formerly homeless himself, but now lives in supportive housing, gives back by volunteering with outreach. "Outreach has done a lot of good things for me. They save lives every day. Outreach brought me to a safe haven and helped me get my place. Now I have done a lot of volunteer work with outreach," states Sam.

In Philadelphia, we are fortunate to have a community of people who care and work solely to be that helping hand. As the weather begins to turn, let's continue to come together as a community to help those on the streets. If you or someone you know is in need of outreach services contact 215-232-1984.

How to Help:

People often ask how they can help those on the street and fortunately there are many ways to give back in Philadelphia. Calling the homeless hotline (215-232-1984) is one surefire way to connect those in need with people who care.

Project Home also has a Where to Turn pamphlet available on their website (www.projecthome.org) that provides information such as: shelter services, meal locations, drop in centers, and much more. Another reliable way to support this community is to volunteer at a local organization, such as One Step Away, that works to support and empower those in need; your time goes a long way!

Regardless, any approach you decide to take when giving back to this vulnerable population has an impact!