You Never Know Where Kindness Will Lead, by Mary (Bacon) Rosenkrans

Most people’s stereotype of a homeless person is that they are dirty, drunk, rude, standing in lines for handouts, uneducated, and mentally ill. My brother Francis “Fran” Bacon fit that description at times, and yet there was much more than a passing glance might tell you if you saw him on the streets of Harrisburg.

Francis was born July 10, 1956, the youngest of four children—three boys and one girl—to Grace Gallagher and Arthur Francis Bacon. As the only girl, I assumed the role as his “little mother” early on and did my best to look after him until he passed away in November. He was my baby brother and he called me Mae, the only person to do that. (He also called me Sissy, but I always ignored that because it annoyed me.)

Francis was two years old when our father died of cirrhosis of the liver. I don’t know that Francis had many memories of our father. My father had mental health issues—which is why he drank—but he was also brilliant. And so was Francis (what else would you expect from someone named Francis Bacon).

The principal at our local parochial school realized early on (an act of kindness) that Francis and my two other brothers needed a better education than what they could get in Freeland, Pa., a small coal mining town, so they were sent to Milton Hershey School once they reached the age of 12. The school at that time was only open to boys who had lost one or both parents. The school provided everything—clothing, housing, food, education—at no cost to my mother (another act of kindness). She and I later moved to Hershey so we could live closer.

Francis graduated from Milton Hershey School with a full scholarship to Cornell University (more kindness), but at the same time his life-long struggle with bipolar disorder hit and he left college after only one year.

In spite of his inherited mental illness, Francis never stopped learning. He also never felt sorry for himself and created a life on the street and made it his community. So many people along the way showed their kindness and he, in turn (when he wasn’t drinking), returned his kindness to them. Elaine Strokoff and the people at Downtown Daily Bread were one of those. It wasn’t just the food, which is so critical when you are hungry and poor, but it was also the respect he was given and friendships that he developed that became a lifeline for him. One example is that they helped him order books and have them shipped to their address because he didn’t have one. When Francis was missing just before his death, they posted a sign on the wall asking if anyone had seen him.

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Francis “Fran” Bacon, at CACH’s Project Homeless Connect 2012

There were many, many others that were kind to my brother as well. Chuck Wingate at the Bethesda Mission who became a close friend, checked up on him and drove him places, took him shopping, accepted his phone calls and had his wife Nancy, a nurse, care for him when he was ill. April and Angel Ocasio from Isaiah 61 adopted Francis and he became Uncle Fran to their children. All of the caseworkers at CMU; the librarians at the Dauphin County Library; the bank clerks at Wells Fargo; Deb Ritchey at the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority; the Salvation Army; Father Rozman, Deacon Crudup and staff at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Shining Light Thrift Shop; the staff at Hamilton Health Center; St. Francis of Assisi’s soup kitchen; and Rev. Karin Pejak at Zion Lutheran Church. They all were a part of his community.

My brothers and I knew very little of this kindness. We are grateful and thankful to all. Caring is a two way street and one act of kindness often leads to another. We also had little knowledge of the life Francis made living on the street and only recently learned about the many friends he had. At his funeral, we heard about how funny he was, a great story teller, smart, generous; and, most of all, kind. We are proud of him and take great comfort in knowing this now.

So the next time you pass a homeless person on the street, don’t make assumptions. Just show some kindness. You never know where it will lead.

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Homelessness and its detrimental effects on children

This young girl was one of the 42 children who attended the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness’s Project Homeless Connect event last year. This event targets the hardest-to-reach homeless and provides them with many necessary services, from meal distribution to housing referrals.

This young girl was one of the 42 children who attended the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness’s Project Homeless Connect event last year. This event targets the hardest-to-reach homeless and provides them with many necessary services, from meal distribution to housing referrals.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, more than 1.6 million children were homeless each year between 2006 and 2010, which equals one in 45 children. Last year, CACH’s annual Point in Time survey found that 127 children were homeless in Dauphin County. Of these children, 79 were male and 48 were female. According to the survey, 23 percent of the homeless surveyed were households that had children (63 households).

Many causes exist for family homelessness. The biggest cause is unemployment, according to CACH’s Homeless Services Reference Manual. The following two biggest causes for homelessness among families with children were lack of affordable housing and poverty.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 40 percent of homeless children were under the age of six. Many of these children experience physical and mental health issues as a result of their homelessness. Homeless children are six times more likely to get sick each year than their non-homeless counterparts, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.  These children are twice as likely to develop learning disabilities when compared to non-homeless children. They also have a higher risk of experiencing violence, as 25 percent have witnessed violence within their families.

Featured in this photo are a homeless mother and her two children who attended CACH’s Project Homeless Connect in 2012.

Featured in this photo are a homeless mother and her two children who attended CACH’s Project Homeless Connect in 2012.

Homelessness really impacts the healthy development of young children. According to an article from the non-profit research center Child Trends, these children are more likely than non-homeless children to develop moderate to severe health, emotional, and behavioral problems, which can range from asthma to depression.

Not only do these children suffer from poor physical and mental health, but they also suffer from hunger and missed educational opportunities.  According to Child Trends, homeless children who lack a stable living environment are twice as likely as non-homeless children to have to repeat a grade, drop out of high school, or be suspended or expelled.

We here at CACH are committed to helping homeless families with children, along with homeless individuals, get the access they need to services that will help them get back on their feet and change their lives for the better. To learn more about CACH and our work, please visit www.cachpa.org.

Raising awareness of homeless issues

Welcome to the Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness’s blog!

The Capital Area Coalition on Homelessness, also known as CACH, has recently started to build a social media presence within the past two weeks. With the start of using social media, CACH has launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of homelessness and its issues. CACH created a Facebook page two weeks ago and a Twitter account last week. In addition to this blog, CACH will also be creating a YouTube account in the following two weeks.

Goals of campaign

This campaign was launched to fulfill part of CACH’s mission of educating its community to help prevent and reduce homelessness in the Capital Region. This campaign was also launched because there have been several myths surrounding the real issue of homelessness. It is our goal to dispel these myths and help reduce misinformation about homelessness.

We are hoping this campaign will especially resonate with faith-based organizations, churches, shelters, social and human service providers, local non-profits and businesses, local and state governments, and university students. Other important groups include people who are homeless, near-homeless and formerly homeless, along with homeless veterans and homeless youth.

Each year, CACH hosts Project Homeless Connect, an event that targets the hardest-to-reach men, women, teens, and children who are homeless or living on the street. Pictured above are guests having lunch at last year's event.

Each year, CACH hosts Project Homeless Connect, an event that targets the hardest-to-reach men, women, teens, and children who are homeless or living on the street. Pictured above are guests having lunch at last year’s event.

What CACH plans to do

We will share stories and videos that highlight issues of homelessness, along with facts that dispel myths that have been created about homelessness. One common myth is that homeless people do not have jobs. According to CACH’s 2012 Point-In-Time Survey, 19.6% of our homeless population in Dauphin County is employed. We want to put a spotlight on various aspects of homelessness and share positive stories of those who are homeless or have been homeless.

How supporters can participate

Anyone who has an interest in CACH’s mission of helping prevent and reduce homelessness is invited to “Like” us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CapitalAreaCoalitiononHomelessness) or “Follow” us on Twitter (twitter.com/cach_pa). Feel free to subscribe to our blog as well. Please spread the word about us to your friends and family to help CACH gain more of a social media presence and help spread awareness, and help us out by sharing content that particularly interests you. We also want supporters to have meaningful conversations about homeless issues on our social media platforms, so please do not be afraid to share your thoughts and insights. We look forward to engaging more with our supporters on our social media platforms!

To learn more about CACH, visit www.cachpa.org. You can also check out our “Home Run” report from last year, which gives an update on CACH’s accomplishments to fulfill our 10-year plan to end long-term homelessness in the Capital Region: http://www.cachpa.org/HomeRun_RevisdCACHadopted_April2012_Final.pdf.