Nearly 1 million people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States. As businesses that cater to the traveling public and support local communities, truckstops and travel plazas are in a unique position to help those who may be experiencing homelessness.
The primary causes of homelessness in the U.S. include the lack of affordable housing, poverty or a lack of employment opportunities. Often times, the idea of what homelessness looks like does not match the reality, and truckstop and travel plaza employees may be interacting with homeless persons and not even know it. Truckstop employees might also periodically encounter requests for food, shelter, transportation or money.
Whether it is providing food, connecting someone in need with the appropriate agency or advocating for better resources for the homeless, truckstops have an important role to play. Here are seven ways truckstop and travel plaza operators can support the homeless in their communities.
Establish Relationships With Local Shelters, Charities Or Food Banks: Know where to call and who to speak with at these organizations before someone asks for help. Create a list with contact information for the appropriate person, so you have resources available when needed.
Consider Specific Ways To Help: Given the resources at truckstops and travel plazas, operators can be in a unique position to offer help. Can you provide someone with a shower, an opportunity to wash clothes or a meal? Locations may also be able to offer the opportunity for employment.
Create A Policy For Employee Protocol: The policy should clearly define the types of help employees may provide. The location can then train employees on how to offer assistance.
Determine Need: There are several ways operators and employees can determine need if they suspect someone might be homelessness. Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, suggests operators simply ask the person if he or she needs help. Employees could also ask if the person is aware of the local homeless agencies, how long it has been since the person has eaten and how long they’ve been in the area.
Know Your Local Laws: Some cities have adopted laws that prohibit food sharing with the homeless, sleeping in cars and begging. It is important for operators to know their local laws to ensure they’re not violating any restrictions when helping the homeless.
Advocate For Changes In Homeless Policies: By getting involved at the local and state levels, operators can make their concerns about homelessness heard.
Put Employee Safety First: While it is important to offer help to the homeless, it is critical to put employees’ safety first and there are several things employees should never do, including never give someone a ride to a different location, never dismiss someone who needs help or speak rudely to them, and never put themselves, a co-worker or customer in any sort of risk.
Three Types of Homeslessness
People often have an image of homelessness in their mind, but there are three types of homelessness. They are:
1 Chronic: The chronically homeless are typically entrenched in the shelter system. They tend to be older and consist of the hard-core unemployed. They make up the smallest proportion of the homeless population.
2 Transitional: The transitionally homeless generally enter the shelter system for a short period of time before transitioning into more stable housing. They are likely to be younger and are probably homeless due to some catastrophic event. They make up the majority of the homeless.
3 Episodic: Those who frequently shuttle in and out of homelessness are known as episodically homeless. They tend to be young and are often chronically unemployed and experience medical, mental health and substance abuse problems.
How Truckstops Help the Homeless: An Online Guide
The NATSO Foundation has developed the e-learning course “How Truckstops Help the Homeless” to help truckstop owners, operators and their employees understand homelessness in their communities and how they can best help someone who comes into their location who may be experiencing homelessness or without resources. It is the second course in a four-part series focused on "How Truckstops Help People." It is available online at http://www.natso.com/onlinelearning.
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