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Homelessness in my town (opinion)


Submitted by Darsh N. Patel

Homelessness is a persistent problem in the United States. The severity of the problem, however, varies by state and locality. Finding the locations with the most serious problems and focusing more attention and more resources on them would result in major reductions in homelessness.

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) is a report to Congress from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that gives national estimates of homelessness. The AHAR report is based on data from the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) regarding people who have been homeless for at least a year.

The Point-in-Time (PIT) count provides a snapshot of housed and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. It also provides statistics on the inventory of available shelter and accommodation in a community.

According to the 2019 AHAR report roughly 568,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the U.S. More than one third of the people were living unsheltered: in abandoned buildings or on the streets. Nearly two-thirds of them were staying in sheltered locations like transitional homes or shelters.

Men constituted 61 % of those experiencing homelessness, women were 31 % and fewer than 1% were transgender or gender non-conforming.

Three states accounted for more than half of the overall number of people suffering homelessness: California (27%) New York (16%), and Florida (5%).  

With the current pandemic forcing many of us to do our work online from home, I was able to see and understand the patient population at my mother’s place of work, a skilled nursing facility. These skilled nursing facilities assist patients in achieving the best possible health outcomes.

I was very disturbed by the images I would see repeatedly (while also following strict HIPPA guidelines). The images were of adult feet in a horrific state of gangrene, where blood supply, and hence the nutrients, to the part of the skin and underlying tissues is cut off.

The patients often always ended up with amputation of some or all of their toes.

A man laying down at Virginia Lake in near-freezing temperatures. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.
A man laying down at Virginia Lake in near-freezing temperatures. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

These patients are homeless and without proper shelter, clothing, food supply and footwear. Many come to the skilled nursing facilities from acute hospitals without clothes and a safe place to go. 

This brought back memories of my early days on the ski slopes. I have lived on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in Reno since 2014. On average it receives 22 inches of snow per year, and the snow-capped mountain slopes make it ideal for skiing.

I remember getting the taste of the powdery white snow when I was 10 years old. My feet were fitted with the best woolen socks, toe warmers and ski boots. But some days my feet couldn’t tolerate the freezing temperatures and I had to stop skiing with my team and return to the lodge with uncontrollable tears streaming down my cheeks. My toes felt like they were burning and hundreds of little needles were pricking my skin.

I also remember once my brother’s fingers froze so badly that he couldn’t play his clarinet for a week.

If we could come this close to getting frostbite, the patients without a roof over their heads and without proper footwear stand little chance of avoiding frostbite.

I have made it my mission to do something about it. I have spearheaded a project called “The Soul Shoe Project” with the goal to raise awareness about and increase practices to prevent frostbites that can lead to amputations further deteriorating the quality of living.

I am aiming to raise money by selling t-shirts that I designed. Proceeds of the sales go 100% to purchasing winter boots for the homeless. I also want to bring strong governmental and community awareness to the issue and eradicate amputation secondary to frostbites in the homeless population.

It is a start and I hope that I can make this a national campaign. If you live in a climate with the potential for frostbite from harsh winters, I urge you to do something to help the ones in need.

Darsh is an 11th-grade student at The Davidson Academy, a dual enrollment school at the University of Nevada, pursuing higher-level university courses in computer science, mathematics, statistics, and economics. He finds time to help and shine light on unsheltered facing amputation due to frostbite.

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