As the nights grow longer, and the holidays approach, anyone driving through the streets of our communities will notice these things.
Home after home is lit inside and out. Windows glow with warmth and one can imagine families gathered around a table laden with a feast, lovingly prepared.
But for too many in our area, and in the state in general, those images will remain just that — images.
They are the homeless, made that way through ill fortune, personal crisis or economic necessity, but still our neighbors.
The number of homeless people in Massachusetts leapt 14% last year, an increase of about 2,500 people. According to federal statistics, about 20,000 Bay State residents have no place to call their home.
The numbers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development say those figures include:
13,257 people in families with children
6,267 adults over age 24 in households without children
493 young adults ages 18-24 in households without children
46 children and youth, under age 18, in households with only children.
In Attleboro, an annual homeless survey finds anywhere from 15 to 20 chronically homeless people living in the city in a given year.
How can this happen in a prosperous country, one where we are frequently told the economy has never been better and unemployment has never been lower?
The irony is it’s that booming economy that is one reason many individuals and families face housing insecurity.
With a system of zoning laws in many communities that favor single-family homes above other types of housing, rental units at a premium and a large number of working-class families facing stagnant wage growth, even basic living accommodations can be out of reach.
In this area, there have long been efforts to bring attention to the problem of homelessness. One of the oldest involves some of the area’s youngest people.
The Attleboro Area Interfaith Collaborative annually holds a Homeless Awareness Weekend. Earlier this month, during a stretch of unseasonably frigid weather, young people from the Evangelical Covenant Church of Attleboro, Memorial Baptist of Seekonk, Rehoboth Congregational Church, and Wrentham Congregational Church braved the below freezing temperatures to sleep outside in cardboard boxes.
State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, has earmarked $50,000 in the state budget as seed money toward a homeless facility on Falmouth Street in the city that he said local banks have pledged to support.
The project has bipartisan support, Hawkins told The Sun Chronicle this spring. That includes the backing of Mayor Paul Heroux.
“People are going to say, ‘Don’t build it, you’re just going to attract the homeless.’ My answer is, the homeless are already here,” Heroux said.
And, it’s up to us to be there for them.