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Red Paint final 3

A divorce, a serious illness, a mental health issue and bad luck put them on the streets, but they are far from alone.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless in the U.S. increased for the first time in seven years in 2017. In December, the federal government reported that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night, a 0.7 percent increase from 2016.

A statewide count on Jan. 23 showed that South Dakota had 1,159 homeless compared to 955 in January 2017. Of that total, 300 were counted in Rapid City, including 51 veterans and at least 41 children.

On Sunday, the Rapid City Journal told the stories of seven homeless people, which revealed that a bad break or two, a poor decision or family and health issues can put someone on the streets as easily as an alcohol or drug problem.

A 23-year-old woman with autism who survived an abusive relationship; a 51-year-old man who had a septic infection after gall bladder surgery, quit his job and now battles myriad health issues; a 58-year-old man suffering from cancer and diabetes; a recently divorced 41-year-old woman with no place to go; a 51-year-old woman raised as a foster child and now has no support network — these are among the stories of the homeless in Rapid City.

It is convenient to blame them for their plight. In doing so, the assumption is that it is always their fault and perhaps they even deserve their fate. If they were only willing to apply for even a $10 an hour job, the homeless problem would vanish. The truth, however, is that many people are only one or two unfortunate events away from living the nightmare of homelessness — adrift and preferably invisible to the rest of us.

Experts are expecting the problem will get worse in the future. Housing costs continue to rise across the country, which is certainly the case in Rapid City where even a two-bedroom apartment can cost as much as a $1,000 a month with utilities. At the same time, wages remain stagnant, health care costs soar and affordable mental health care is largely unavailable.

Rapid City, however, does reach out to help the homeless. Organizations like Cornerstone Rescue Mission, the Hope Center, WAVI, the Salvation Army, Goodwill of the Great Plains and Feeding South Dakota are just some of the nonprofits that provide assistance to the homeless.

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Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender and the city, meanwhile, are closely watching the efforts of the nonprofit Collective Impact, which wants to create a transformation center campus in town that would provide services — including temporary housing — in one location with the goal of returning the homeless to productive roles in society.

We, as individuals, can help, too. If you see a homeless person panhandling don't look away; consider buying that person a meal or some food. If you want to donate money or help in other ways, give to the nonprofits who work with the homeless or become a volunteer.

Compassion should guide us when we confront homelessness. Giving is good for the soul and you never know when it might be you or someone you care about who finds themselves on the streets through no fault of their own and in desperate need of help and kindness.

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