“Please don’t let us become homeless again.”

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“Please don’t let us become homeless again.”

by Carole Coppens
YWCA Binghamton/Broome County

Visit with Rep. Hanna
Shannon, left, with Representative Richard Hanna (R – NY) and another YWCA advocate.

“Please don’t let us become homeless again.” That was the message several of our residents brought to U.S. Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) at the opening of his district office in downtown Binghamton – a building in which one of the women used to sleep when she was homeless.

With another round of sequester cuts looming, particularly a 12% slash to programs for the homeless, our residents – though they were nervous – thought the Congressman should hear their story.

The effects of these cuts will be immense and they will trickle-down. The YWCA of Binghamton/Broome County would be forced to eliminate our Intensive Independent Living Program (IILP), obliging at least four women and their children to go back into homelessness. What’s more, it would result in our laying off a staff member who is a single mother.

The possibility of this becoming a reality is heartbreaking, and flies in the face of our mission. It is not just cruelly ironic – it is criminal. We know that homelessness is not just about finding a place to sleep in a heat wave or blizzard. It is about the loss of services like case management and counseling. It is about the loss of hope and safety. It is about being invisible. It is about the woman who might decide that returning to an abuser is better than watching her child starve. It is about abandoning women with a history of abuse coupled with mental illness who have no recourse.

Shannon, one of the women who met Congressman Hanna that day, knows this personally. She said, “The YWCA made me feel like a person.  It gave me the foundation and structure I needed to believe in myself.”

Shannon was chronically homeless for more than four years and is recovering from addiction. She said she used to bounce from state to state, hopeful that the change of scenery would help her somehow; but it wasn’t until she was ordered by drug court to receive services at the YWCA that she found the support system she needed to begin recovery. “If I had to leave, I’m afraid I would relapse,” she said.

Living at the YWCA, working with the counselors, and meeting other women with similar struggles have made Shannon want to give back. It is what motivated her to push through her anxiety and speak to a Congressman, one who called the sequester immoral when addressing the House back in March.

The sequester may seem abstract to a lot of people, those for whom it is just another bland economic news story. But it is a painful reality for us at the YWCA. Our residents and staff must not be reduced to percentages on a spreadsheet. The true cost is the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable in our society.

Carole Coppens has served as Executive Director of the YWCA Binghamton and Broome County since June, 2000.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Colorado and lives in Apalachin, NY with her husband, son and cat. Carole was elected to serve as representative from the Northeast Region Council YWCA to the YWCA USA’s National Coordinating Board in April, 2008 and nominated to the World Service Council YWCA in October, 2008.  She is currently serving as Vice President of the Northeast Regional Council YWCA and sits on the Steering and Advocacy Committees for the Supportive Housing Network of New York.