It has always been one of my greatest fears that I and my daughter could someday end up homeless through no fault of my own. I know that many people look down on the homeless and call them bad names, judge them, and wish they would "just go get a job". I, however, would never treat the homeless like that, because I believe you should treat people the way you want to be treated, and if I were ever in the dire straits of being homeless, I wouldn't want people to do that to me.

I have a personal family experience with homelessness. My Aunt Lisa was recently homeless for several years. She was in her early forties when she began to show the visible signs of mental illness, which was about a decade ago. We finally noticed it immediately after my Grandmother Martha, her mother, passed away unexpectedly. Aunt Lisa was living with my grandmother at the time, and was forced out of the home due to foreclosure from a bank. We didn't know it, but she had been suffering for years from mental illness and had no insurance, which meant that she had no access to the medication she needed.

Aunt Lisa refused to live with our other family members who offered her a place to live. She claimed that everyone was "out to get her" and that "the government was spying on her every move". She ended up living on the streets for eleven years. Fortunately, my mom just informed me that my Aunt Lisa recently moved into a homeless-transition shelter in Nashville, found a part-time job, and is getting the medical care that she needs, at least for now.

Walnut Avenue in downtown Yakima is eerily quiet and empty on this Monday morning after the homeless camp site, dubbed "Tent City", has been officially cleared out. All that remains is a few abandoned tents, a great deal of garbage on the ground, and a "Road Closed" sign. City officials gave the Tent City residents a Friday night deadline on November 18th. They had to move out because back in July, a city ordinance was passed that made it illegal to camp overnight on property owned by the city. Members of the city council have been working with the residents to find other arrangements so that they won't be sleeping outside in this cold and wintry weather.

All remaining personal items left in Tent City are currently being boxed up and sent away to a nearby off-site location, where they will be itemized and stored for 60 days. After that, none of the homeless residents will be able to claim their belongings. If you are wondering where in the world do the homeless people have to go now that the weather has officially reached freezing temperatures, there are several shelters and a few churches who have opened their doors to help. Homeless persons with pets, however, will not be allowed to bring the animals inside the shelters, which makes my heart ache.

WAYS YOU CAN HELP THE HOMELESS IN YAKIMA:

Grocery Stores: Several area grocery stores are offering to donate a bag of food for a donation at the checkout lane. Make sure to ask the cashiers if they are accepting monetary donations.

Shelters: For a list of shelters and services, click here.

Food Banks: Here is a list of area food banks.

If you wish to give a community donation to the Yakima Union Gospel Mission, see this recent article for information.