Henrietta Hughes: The real face of homelessness

Last week, our nation was introduced to Henrietta Hughes, reminding us that the face of homelessness is changing.

The below My Word column, written by Coalition President/CEO Brent Trotter, appeared in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday. Given the importance of this story, we decided to repost the column here as well. Feel free to share your thoughts on this story; we’d love to hear other opinions.

(CNN.com) President Obama talks to Henrietta Hughes at a town hall rally in Fort Myers, Florida, last Tuesday.
(Photo from CNN.com) President Obama talks to Henrietta Hughes at a town hall rally in Fort Myers, Florida last Tuesday.

“One week ago, Henrietta Hughes was an unknown. This past Tuesday, Hughes was thrust into the limelight when she asked for help from President Barack Obama.

“The president was in Fort Myers for a town-hall meeting when Hughes was given the public opportunity to talk with him. “I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in,” she said. “The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.”

“What is significant is that Ms. Hughes asked for help, not a handout. And there is a difference.
One of the myths surrounding homelessness is that help is a handout. Such is not the case. Help comes in many forms, such as access to health-care services, job-skills training and employment opportunities, in addition to shelter and food.

Brent Trotter, CEO of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

Brent Trotter, President/CEO of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

“Homelessness is one of the most misunderstood and challenging issues facing our community. It is easy to assume homelessness is a big-city problem. It’s also easy to believe homelessness is limited to that man on the street corner. That’s definitely a segment of the homeless population; but unfortunately, Hughes is the far-too-often unseen face of homelessness — the new face of the homeless population in our society, especially during these tough economic times.

“Although Hughes is in Fort Myers, don’t for one minute think her situation is not replicated right here in Central Florida. In fact, homelessness has encroached on the most vulnerable of our own community — women, children and families. At the Coalition for the Homeless, we see the Henriettas of our community every day. They may not bear her name or her gender, but their story is her story.

“They are living on the edge, the brink of breakdown. They are making decisions about which necessity to eliminate next. When these folks walk through our doors, the basic crisis of shelter and food are immediately met. We offer both short- and long-term help, if necessary. Our community especially looks to us to lead the charge in assisting those in need during these uncertain times.

“It is the generosity of our community and our partners that enables us to do what we do. Just like those who came forward to help Henrietta Hughes after her heartfelt plea to the president, we could not succeed without the faithful support of our donors and volunteers. The need is real. The faces are real. And we are here to offer real help and real solutions.”

– Brent Trotter, CEO of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida

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