ROCKVILLE — A marine, a chef, a hippie and an artist were four of the 27 homeless people who died in Montgomery County during the past 12 months. Wednesday morning, County officials and nonprofit employees who work with the homeless gathered to pay their respects in a memorial service at the Executive Office Building in Circuit Court Plaza.
The service marked the kickoff of the County’s campaign to end homelessness in 2020 for families with children.
The @HomeTogether effort will focus on preventing evictions, targeting at-risk families, and coordinating the many agencies that help the homeless to ensure that the times that families, and particularly children, are homeless “are rare, are brief and that they are non-reoccurring,” said Clarence Snuggs, director of the County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
During the past 12 months, the County assisted 606 families, including more than 1,800 children, as they struggled with homelessness, Snuggs said, adding, “Housing stability is especially crucial for children.”
Christine knows that well. Two years ago, she lost her job and her apartment. Not sure where to turn, she visited the County’s social services offices in Silver Spring, with her eviction papers in hand.
In a short time, Christine and her daughter moved into an apartment and received food stamps, financial assistance and school supplies, thanks to the County and Interfaith Works, a nonprofit aimed at helping the needy here.
She told the 100 people gathered at the memorial service that she soon found a new job and still works there.
After moving into a place for just herself and her daughter, “I felt the depression lift. I was so happy to have something for me and my daughter. It was a nice place.
“We have a lot of opportunities in Montgomery County. There is good opportunity for everybody,” said Christine, adding, “Today. I am in paradise. I have deep peace and joy inside of me.”
In January of this year, the County reported 840 people, of which 180 were children, who were sleeping either in shelters or on the street, said Amanda Harris, chief of services to end and prevent homelessness with the County’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Finding permanent housing for children “is about saving lives,” Harris said.
County Council member George Leventhal, the leading advocate for the homeless on the Council, spoke of the importance of helping all who are without permanent housing, not just the chronic homelessness.
“There are still many, many families who remain unstable,” he said. “We are a wealthy and generous and compassionate County, but there are a lot of people suffering every day.”
Leventhal cited a 2011 study demonstrating that homelessness cuts a person’s life short by 30 years, due to a lack of health care and other services, as well as stress.
In his invocation, Rabbi David Shneyer of Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community and Kehila Chadasha comforted the family members, friends and caseworkers of the homeless, asking, “How many times has a homeless person consoled us?”
He urged everyone to continue to help the needy and never “be lulled into complacency.”
The @HomeTogether campaign is part of the County’s overall strategy to end homelessness. Veterans and the chronically homeless previously have been targeted for aid.