The goal of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to the needs of people living without homes or in situations where their housing is insecure due to rising rents or job loss. By highlighting this important issue, we can reduce the stigma associated with homelessness and provide opportunities for the local community to respond.

According to a recent analysis by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; 93,780 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2010-11 school year. This is a 5.5% increase from the 88,923 who were homeless during the 2009-2010 school year. This estimate is based, in part, on rising enrollment of homeless students in Chicago Public Schools, which identified a record 15,580 homeless students in 2010-11, 97.9% of them children of color.

One of the most difficult things to overcome for many is the stigma attached with homelessness. While it is true that there are mental health and/or substance abuse issues that must be dealt with for some individuals; there are people, including many families, who have found themselves homeless due to unemployment or underemployment. We all know that finding work right now is difficult, but if a person has been labeled homeless, or cannot provide a permanent address, getting a job can seem like an impossible dream.

You can help us meet the needs of homeless Chicagoans by spending just a few hours a month volunteering. There are amazing organizations across our city who understand the complex issues involved in homelessness and are providing hope to thousands through programs that provide in real, meaningful ways.

Preparing a hot meal, organizing a food pantry, tutoring adults who are working to build skills that are vital to employment; there are many opportunities for you to serve.

You can make a difference. You can help bring people home.