Homelessness and World Toilet Day

It's World Toilet Day today!

Currently, 4.5 billion people worldwide live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste. In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 19th as World Toilet Day -- a day to mobilize individuals, organizations, governments, and the private sector to tackle the global sanitation crisis. This year's World Toilet Day theme is wastewater.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals include a target to ensure that everyone has access to a safely managed household toilet by 2030. For this to be achieved we need everyone’s waste to take a 4-step journey:

  • Containment: waste must be deposited into a hygienic toilet and stored in a sealed pit or tank separated from human contact.
  • Transport: pipes or latrine-emptying services must move the waste to the treatment stage.
  • Treatment: waste must be processed into a treated wastewater and waste products that can be safely returned to the environment.
  • Disposal or Reuse: safely treated waste can be used for energy generation or as fertilizer in food production.

What happens when you don’t have access to a restroom? Recent stories from San Diego and Los Angeles show one answer.

In recent years, San Diego and Los Angeles have seen a massive outbreak of the Hepatitis A virus. As of November 13th, there have been 370 people hospitalized and 20 people have died from the virus. Governor Jerry Brown has declared a public health emergency to contain the epidemic.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can spread easily through the homeless population because it thrives in unsanitary conditions and is primarily spread through contact with feces via surfaces or sexual contact. The homeless population is vulnerable to contracting the disease due to lack of access to proper restroom facilities.

To prevent the outbreak from spreading, Gil Chavez, the California State Epidemiologist, has stated that, “Sanitation, particularly access to toilet facilities and careful hand-washing after contact with feces and before eating, is important for reducing disease transmission… Anything that can be done to improve access to sanitary facilities for individuals who are homeless will go a long way in helping to prevent the outbreak.”

For the city of San Diego, sanitary conditions have been a concern for many years. In 2015, a grand jury report criticized the city for slow action on this issue. The report quoted: “For more than a decade the city has been advised of the need for more public restroom facilities in the downtown area for the general public, tourists, and the homeless.” The biggest pushback to implementing more public restrooms has come from businesses and downtown property owners because of the fear that it would attract more people experiencing homelessness.

Since September, San Diego has added only 4 portable restrooms to the downtown area, bringing the number of sites with public toilets to 23. The city has also added 60 hand-washing facilities.

Los Angeles is faced with a similar problem. A coalition of nonprofits and residents compared toilet access in Skid Row, a 50-block area of downtown Los Angeles with a large concentration of people experiencing homelessness, to the United Nations standards for long-term refugee camps. The audit was conducted in the winter of 2017 and found that the area was 80 toilets short of meeting the UN standard during nighttime hours. During the day, when shelter residents are emptied onto the streets, they are 164 toilets short. Even worse, many of those toilets were frequently out of service or lacked toilet paper or paper towels.

The good news? In 2012, the state of California passed the Human Right to Water Law, which includes access to adequate sanitation. The law states that every person in California has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes. Unfortunately, due to limited financial and staff resources, so far the State Water Resources Control Board has been prioritizing drinking water access over sanitation.

So please take some time today, on World Toilet Day, to educate your community about the lack of access to public restrooms for people experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness and World Diabetes Day

World Diabetes DayWorld Diabetes Day falls this year on Tuesday, November 14 -- right in the middle of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

In recognition of this day, the National Coalition for the Homeless would like to start a conversation among healthcare providers, community members, and homeless advocates about how to help individuals who are facing illness and homelessness at the same time.

Consider the difficulty of managing a chronic illness like diabetes without the security of a home. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) points out that, “[h]igh stress, unhealthy and dangerous environments, and an inability to control food intake often result in visits to emergency rooms and hospitalization which worsens overall health."

Simply having a home decreases the likelihood that an individual will be exposed to extreme weather or unsanitary conditions. Housing provides greater security, improving both mental and physical health. If you’ve ever wondered why we promote slogans like “Housing is Healthcare,” this is why.

The NHCHC report goes on to point out that treatment is also more challenging without a home. In the case of diabetes, a report released by the Health Care for the Homeless Clinician’s Network noted that, “[h]ealthy meals can be hard to find, refrigerating insulin may be impossible, and medications for other illnesses may have a negative impact on metabolism.”

The report suggests several strategies physicians can use to help their homeless patients with diabetes to manage symptoms and maintain health as much as possible. However, these patients are already facing such disadvantages that the self-care strategies recommended in the report are less than ideal.

So what is there to do? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Encourage empathy among health care providers toward their homeless patients.
It can be easy for clinicians to have preconceived notions about homeless individuals. Homeless patients receive better care when their health care providers are able to set aside any negative assumptions and approach all patients with compassion. For example, one medical provider interviewed by researchers Elder & Tubb explained, “I had the preconceived notion that if you’re homeless, you don’t have a lot to do, but they have a lot to do—they’re applying for financial assistance, looking for housing, meeting with people, all those things require a lot of waiting and sitting around…”

2) Make sure homeless individuals are receiving health education, too.
The purpose of public health education is to prevent diseases before they happen. Government health offices, non-profit health education organizations, and other similar groups need to include the homeless community in their health promotion interventions.

3) Build continuity of support among homelessness service providers.
Service providers including case managers and social workers should be made aware of basic public health approaches to share with homeless individuals. For example, a housing case worker could take on the additional task of checking in with homeless clients about whether they are taking their prescribed medications or whether they have been able to consistently make it to doctors’ appointments.

There is so much more that can be done to support homeless community members who are dealing with illnesses like diabetes. On this World Diabetes Day, we want to hear from YOU about your creative ideas for how to better reach homeless individuals with the support and information they need to maintain good health. Join the conversation by following and tweeting to @ntl_homeless and @hhweek using hashtags #hhweek and #WDD.

Additionally, to learn more, consider registering for a Homelessness & Diabetes webinar being put on by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council on Thursday, 11/16, from 1-2pm CDT. Click here to register.


Elder, N.C. & Tubb, M.R. (2014). Diabetes in homeless persons: Barriers and enablers to health as perceived by patients, medical, and social service providers. Social Work in Public Health, 29(3): 220-231. DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2013.776391.

Kalinowski, A., Tinker, T., Wismer, B., & Meinbresse, M. (2013). “Adapting your practice: Treatment recommendations for patients who are homeless with diabetes mellitus.”

National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2011). “Homelessness & health: What’s the connection?” Fact sheet.

Celebrate World Kindness Day

“After several speakers told city officials that they wanted the homeless to be forced to leave, one man drew particularly loud applause when he hinted at violence:

“We’re all armed,” he told officials. “Maybe we should take our city back."

This excerpt is from a recently published article on the way that compassion for the un-housed community is running out among parts of the housed community in Southern California. Meanwhile, in other cities throughout the United States, levels of violence toward the homeless are rising, a growing number of city leaders are making it a crime to be homeless, and a lack of affordable housing puts an ever-greater number of people at risk of homelessness or keeps already un-housed individuals from being able to access housing.

Many towns and cities all over the country face significant challenges in garnering the resources and capacity to meet the needs of every resident. The reality of these challenges, however, is no excuse for throwing our homeless neighbors under the bus or considering their needs to less important than those of more powerful or well-established community members.

The frustration expressed by the California residents in the previously mentioned article reflects the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude. Homelessness is a problem that no community wants to have to deal with, and so the NIMBY approach tackles homelessness by pushing it out of sight or attempting to send homeless individuals away – whether to prison or to another location. A NIMBY mindset is evident in recent news stories about bans on feeding the homeless in Houston or the statewide sit-lie ban that was proposed in Hawaii.

While it is reasonable that communities should feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the growing number of homeless men, women, and children throughout the country, our frustration should stem from empathy and deep compassion for the individuals who are experiencing homelessness, rather than from irritation at the inconveniences we may face as a consequence of the existence of homelessness in our neighborhoods.

What mindset can we adopt instead? Other community members in California and throughout the country are spreading the YIMBY (YES In My Back Yard) movement as an alternative to the negativity and anger associated with the NIMBY approach. While YIMBY advocates also encounter frustration and discouragement, their movement centers on taking ownership over the challenges that accompany homelessness and taking responsibility to do whatever they can to alleviate the struggles of the un-housed. YIMBY groups advocate, among other things, for more affordable housing and for community development and planning that does not exclude or privilege any group over another.

Today, November 13th, we celebrate World Kindness Day. Wherever you live, and whether or not you are part of a YIMBY organization, you can choose kindness and compassion in the way that you talk about homelessness and the individuals who are experiencing it.

There are innumerable ways that you can stand up for and support your un-housed neighbors! For just a few ideas of how to do so during this week of Hunger & Homelessness Awareness, check out the National Coalition for the Homeless’ list of ways to get involved. Ending homelessness is the responsibility of each and every one of us. Today, choose kindness and choose a YIMBY attitude, because only with compassion and collaboration can we end homelessness.

Five Ways You Can Help End Global Hunger

ONE CampusThis post comes from our partners at ONE Campus.

You probably know that your voice is important to the global fight to end poverty. Did you know that your ability to influence policy makers and elected officials comes at the local level?

At ONE, we work to connect the local to the global by mobilizing people to advocate to their elected leaders for an end to extreme global poverty. For Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we wanted to share five actions you can take to end global hunger:

1) Write a letter to your Member of Congress. For just 1% of the federal budget, the U.S. development account supports programs that fight hunger and malnutrition and protect food security around the world. Writing a personalized, handwritten message about this issue to your Member of Congress this week makes a powerful impact. Use this sample letter -- just email campus@one.org to report your letters so we can track our impact.

2) Pick up your phone and call your Member of Congress. A phone call is another effective action you can take to protect funding for programs that fight hunger globally. It takes less than two minutes to complete a call to your Member of Congress. Just remember to call during east coast business hours. Call 1-888-213-2881 and use the call script here.

3) Spread the word about the Global Goals. In 2015, the world came together and pledged to end hunger by 2030 and set 16 other poverty-eradicating goals. It’s our job to make sure people know about these goals so we can hold our world leaders accountable for meeting them. Check out how the world is coming together to end global hunger: https://www.one.org/us/globalgoals/zero-hunger/.

4) Educate yourself. As activists, it is important that we keep learning. For example: Right now, 20 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at risk of dying of starvation due to famine: https://www.one.org/us/2017/10/16/famine-africa-causes/.

5) Students: Lead the fight against extreme poverty on your campus. Sign up to become a ONE Campus Leader and start a ONE chapter at your school. https://campus.one.org/campusleader/

How To: Organize a Sleep-Out

The “One Night Without a Home” Sleep Out is a common part of many Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Weeks. This event is an opportunity for participants to spend a night outside to discuss, think, and learn about homelessness. Although one night outside can in no way simulate homelessness, this awareness-raising activity can promote advocacy, awareness, and education.

The Format:

  • This event usually lasts for about 12 hours, often from 7 p.m. until the morning.
  • Develop your mission statement
    • Address the questions of: Who; What; Where; When; and Why
  • Choose an appropriate site, someplace central to community activities.
  • Make sure you receive permission right away from your city or county officials and community/school administrators concerning location, security, and other logistics.
    • If you are doing your event in a public space please make sure to call your local parks and recreation department to finalize any permits that may be required.
  • Invite currently or formerly homeless people, community leaders, residents, and community spokespeople to speak during the event.
  • Ask local businesses for event donations, such as food, drinks, supplies, or money.
  • Ask other groups to co-sponsor the event such as Food Not Bombs, which can serve food to homeless guests
  • Prepare group discussion topics that will promote interaction among all participants.
  • Include information that allows participants to act upon what they’ve learned (directions to local groups where they can perform community service, letter writing, advocacy, etc.).
  • In the morning, allow time for participants to share their thoughts and concerns.

Sample Agenda:

  • 6:00 p.m.: Gather participants. Provide transportation for homeless/formerly homeless guests
  • 7:00 p.m.: Serve coffee and/or a meal
  • 8:00 p.m.: Have speakers present
  • 9:00 p.m.: Hold discussion groups
  • 11:00 p.m.: Late night food/music
  • 7:00 a.m.: Breakfast/closing remarks/wrap up

Additional Suggestions:

  • Be mindful of what to bring. Do not bring laptops, tablets, or alcoholic beverages.
  • Don't let people have pizza or other food delivered.
  • Consider bringing supplies that participants can donate to people experiencing homelessness.
  • Distribute fact sheets and information about hunger and homelessness, plus a schedule of other events that are taking place throughout the week.
  • Invite the media. Assign a spokesperson in charge of representing the event to reporters.
  • Post a list of rules on the night of the event.
  • Designate a time during the evening to discuss hunger and homelessness in your community.

Wrap Up:

  • Appoint a committee to draft a group resolution based on the discussion that night.
  • Establish a common ground for participants who would like to take future action.
  • Collect names, phone numbers, and email addresses of participants for future reference and to provide them with information about local service sites.

Reaching Out to the Media

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week 2017 is right around the corner!

As you make final preparations, we wanted to stress the importance of inviting the media to cover your events.

Media outreach is an important component of any good awareness week. Media coverage will get your message in front of thousands of additional people and encourage them to think about hunger and homelessness.

To help you with your media outreach efforts, we've assembled a Media Outreach Toolkit. The toolkit includes basic how-tos on how to generate media coverage, as well as a news release template that you can use.

Download the Media Outreach Toolkit today.

We're also available to provide one-on-one media training if you want additional assistance.

More 2016 Highlights

Every year there are countless incredible events that take place during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. As we gear up for this year's Awareness Week, we wanted to highlight a few of last year's most interesting events.

The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign in Florida used their Awareness Week to educate their local Green Party on the importance of creating and implementing a Homeless Bill of Rights. This is a great way to advocate against the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness.

In Washington, Help Us Move In held a benefit concert. All proceeds from the concert were matched and 100% of the funds went to assist children and their families to escape homelessness. This is a great and unique way to raise awareness and directly assist your community members.

We'd also like to highlight U.S. VETS Homeless Feeding and Housing Services, based in Los Angeles, California. This group provided the homeless with clean clothes and on-the-spot housing intake placement. Volunteers donated cooked meals and served them to homeless vets living on the streets of Skid Row, the homeless capital of the United States.

Every group that participates in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week does incredible work to end food insecurity and homelessness in their community. Thank you for your work and your participation. Collectively we can eradicate hunger and homelessness in the U.S. forever.

Event Idea: Oxfam Hunger Banquet

OxfamOn the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 1974, something remarkable happened. Responding to Oxfam’s call, 250,000 people nationwide participated in the first Oxfam America Fast for a World Harvest. They fasted either for the day or for a meal, raising awareness about hunger and donating their food money to Oxfam, an organization committed to utilizing the power of people against poverty. Thus began a national movement to alleviate hunger and poverty.

Today, when you bring people together at an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, you can become part of this movement. Over the past four decades, more than 875,000 people have attended this event around the country (and even around the world!). If you’ve been looking for ways to make an impact and engage your community, hosting an Oxfam Hunger Banquet is an excellent way to do so!

How does it work? At an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, guests take on the roles of people who are well-fed, hungry, or somewhere in between, randomly drawing tickets that assign them to different income levels. Some receive a filling dinner, while others eat a simple meal or share sparse portions of rice and water. Participants may even take on the roles of real people from around the world to see what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.

Lucky for you, we’ve done all the gritty work to make hosting an Oxfam Hunger Banquet as easy as possible. Just click the following links to check out the free resources to get you started:

  • Find out more about the event on our website.
  • Download the Oxfam Hunger Banquet toolkit here, which includes a script and a focus on famines.
  • Order free materials (stickers, posters, fact sheets, etc.) here. Our Social Media Suite includes Facebook event banners and social media shareables.

Our top three tips for hosting an Oxfam Hunger Banquet are:

  • Invite everyone! Think outside the box as to who you could invite. How about local advocacy groups that you know? Post on your local newpaper's event calendar or on Eventbrite.
  • Promote using social media! Our website includes sample social media posts already written for you. Use #OxfamHungerBanquet so we can see and promote your event, too!
  • Encourage your participants to take action. Invite them to bring canned goods for a local food pantry or to text ACTNOW to 97779 to join Oxfam’s community.

No matter what food they're served, people talk about this event as a deeply moving experience. They leave with a greater understanding of the causes of poverty, hunger, and injustice – and with the tools and knowledge to change it. Good luck, and contact us if you need anything! Our team is here to help.

Oxfam is a global organization working to end the injustice of poverty. They help people build better futures for themselves, hold the powerful accountable, and save lives in disasters. Oxfam's mission is to tackle the root causes of poverty and create lasting solutions.

And the Winner Is…

We're excited to announce that we will be giving out awards this year to the very best Awareness Weeks around the country. We want to honor the groups that really go above and beyond to make this event great.

The awards we give out will include:
Best Awareness Week
Best First-Time Awareness Week
Best Food and Clothing Drive
Best Advocacy Event
Best Fundraising Event
Best Volunteer Event
Best Awareness Week Organizer (for an individual).

To be eligible for an award, you will need to have registered your event with this website and you will need to fill out the after-event report that we send you in late November.

Event Idea: Friendsgiving

FriendsgivingOne in six kids in America today face hunger. But you could change that statistic through the power of friendship.

One of our partners, Generation No Kid Hungry, offers a fun and easy way for you and your friends to give back to kids in need. By organizing a Friendsgiving to support No Kid Hungry, you can use this holiday to fight childhood hunger.

The idea is simple. If you'll be organizing a Friendsgiving -- a gathering of friends to celebrate a Thanksgiving-style meal -- turn it into a fundraiser. Sign up at the Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry website and register your event. You can then give your invited guests easy fundraising tools that they can use to raise money in honor of the holiday. The money raised will go to help fight childhood hunger.

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week can be a great time to organize a Friendsgiving. It's a chance to celebrate the holiday with your friends (and fight childhood hunger) before you spend Thanksgiving with your family.