COVINGTON, Ky. -- For Vicky Sharp and her family, there was no "home for the holidays." They've spent the past few months without anywhere to call home, like thousands of families experiencing homelessness in the Tri-State.
And, like so many other families, they're fighting just to stay together through one of their most difficult times.
As WCPO previously reported, in Hamilton County alone, nearly 10,000 families on the brink of homelessness asked for help from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul during 2013. And more than half of them -- 5,548 -- had to be turned away.
Sharp said her family's trouble began in June, when her husband lost his job. Unable to pay their bills, they eventually lost their home.
"You're just at rock bottom. You just don't know what to do, how to get help, and you're just, like, in this hole, and someone just keeps throwing mud at it so you can't get out of that hole," she said.
For months, they tapped into every resource they could find, moving from one shelter to another. Just shy of two months at their last shelter, the family was told they hit the quota and had to leave.
Sharp said she knew that might mean she and her husband would be separated from their two children, an 11-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl; many local shelters simply lack capacity for adults and children to stay together. So for now, the children have dropped out of school and are staying about 15 blocks from their parents.
"They're away from me, and I can't protect them like I need to, so it's, like, really, really hard and they're trying to be strong," Sharp said.
That's true of thousands of children: According to UpSpring, an organization that helps homeless kids with school supplies, transportation, education and other services, roughly 6,000 children and youth in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have experience homelessness each year.
Sharp said the family is trying to get back on their feet: Her husband, Robert Crawley, has tried to find work, she said, but a job often requires the basics, such as a home address. And that's something the family doesn't have.
It's discouraging, but he refuses to let the constant rejection keep him down, if only for his family's sake.
"We can't fall a part while we out here," he said. "If we fall apart while we're out here, we won't be able to pick ourselves back up."
Several local organizations are working to stop the kind of situation Sharp and her family have found themselves in: A plan unveiled in October, "Solutions for Family Homelessness," aims to ensure that family homelessness is rare, that the time families spend homeless is brief and that families do not become homeless more than once.
It was created with a process similar to the one used to develop the Homeless to Homes plan for individuals. The 2009 Homeless to Homes plan paved the way for the development of several new shelters in the region, including the $8.3 million Esther Marie Hatton Center, an emergency shelter for women that opened in June.
The organizations releasing the plan included Strategies to End Homelessness, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Family Housing Partnership, which is made up of Bethany House Services, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, The Salvation Army and the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.
"As a team, we have identified three priorities, including expanding homelessness prevention services, offering specialized services for homeless children and targeting existing housing resources toward at-risk and homeless families so that we can minimize the trauma of homelessness," Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, said in a news release.
It isn't yet known what the total cost of implementing the plans recommendations will be. Finn said he hopes to have that determined this month.
Here's what you can do to help the organizations that help families like Sharp's:
Bethany House Services. Volunteers are needed to prepare evening dinners or weekend brunches, help with minor maintenance, yard work, serve on board and event committees – all to provide homeless families with emergency shelter or housing solutions. Call Courtney at (513) 557-2402 or email email@example.com.
Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati. Individual and congregational volunteers are needed to work with children, perform clerical tasks, make and serve meals and provide other skills to support families staying together. Call Hume at (513) 471-1100, extension 10, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Salvation Army. Individual and small groups of volunteers support local community centers and emergency assistance programs to help prevent homelessness. Call Kate Hamilton at (513) 762-5641 or email email@example.com.
St. Vincent de Paul. Volunteers can directly assist our neighbors in need with emergency assistance geared toward basic necessities and homeless prevention or can provide behind-the-scenes support. To help, contact Tim Barr at (513) 562-8841, extension 211, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strategies to End Homelessness leads the coordinated community effort to end homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. To learn more about how to get involved, visit www.strategiestoendhomelessness.org/ending-homelessness/get-involved or email email@example.com.
YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. Volunteers help support Hamilton County's only domestic violence shelter, which provides safe, protective shelter, crisis line assistance, and necessary support services for women and their children. Visit www.ywca.org to get involved.