It’s reported that in January 2017, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness estimated that nearly 24% of the 369,081 people experiencing homelessness consisted of individuals with disabilities who, by federal definition, were experiencing chronic homelessness. Sixty-nine percent of those disabled individuals were residing in areas without appropriate shelter (e.g., sidewalks, doorways, parks, encampments, inside cars, buses, abandoned buildings or under bridges) rather than in emergency shelters.
Our community here in Southwest Florida is no exception. Fort Myers, Florida served as an illustration of the statistics stated above. Before Centennial Park was fenced in, it was a haven and a home for many who were homeless who took shelter under the pavilion. Now their options continue to narrow as the city imposes further restrictions that bar the homeless from taking shelter in other areas, such as the local library or Lions Park.
As of June 2021, the city has yet to come up with an appropriate solution to help reduce the homeless population and create appropriate avenues for housing and assistance. However, there are some citizens who are finding ways to help. Among them are PJ Barber and his wife.
It began with an eight-week program called Alpha that offered up a safe space for conversation about life, spirituality and faith over a warm meal. Located at The Warehouse near downtown Fort Myers, word of a free meal entered the community, drawing in the homeless population. As their needs became apparent, Barber and his wife decided to shift gears. After the Alpha program ended, they created a new weekly event called Community Meal, which is held every Tuesday at The Warehouse at 7pm.
“At the Community Meal, we strive to make sure that the most vulnerable in our community have access to basic needs, such as food, clothing, and personal hygiene items, but we make sure to create a lasting relationship with the people we serve,” Barber explained. “We create an open community where all are welcome and we host open discussions where people are encouraged to speak freely and honestly about their lives so we can encourage and support them. This has created some amazing transformations in people’s lives by just creating a feeling of belonging and support from others. The Community Meal isn’t a hand-out. It’s truly a community that lifts people up and encourages change.”
Dreamscape Foundation supports this mission by donating funds to help purchase food and other basic necessities.
How Homelessness Connects to Dreamscape Foundation’s Mission
Dreamscape Foundation often focuses on ways to make the world more accessible for people with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments. However, the core of our mission is rooted in helping to improve the lives of individuals whose disabilities limit their ability to live their lives fully, and that includes access fundamental needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, and hygiene items.
Mental disabilities, emotional disabilities, and physical disabilities are prevalent among the homeless population. By providing financial support to this program, we are able to help supply food and essential items for those in attendance. We are bridging the “accessibility gap” on a most basic, human level, and – in doing so – helping to foster hope, community, and support among those in our community who desperately need it.« PreviousNext »