The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement April 6 about homelessness and the homeless.
“Homelessness is a tragic condition that afflicts individuals and even families in many places,” according to the statement. “The causes are varied, and solutions are often difficult, but whether homelessness stems from conflict, poverty, mental illness, addiction or other sources, our response to those in need defines us as individuals and communities.”
There are no homeless shelters in Rexburg. Captain Randy Lewis of the Rexburg Police Department said homelessness is not a big issue in Rexburg.
“We have a few passing through but not much,” Lewis said.
He said most of the homeless people the police deal with are either the ones who cause trouble or families with children who have run into hard times. He said he has only seen a few homeless BYU-Idaho students, mostly young adults who have been kicked out of school and lost their parents’ favor and money.
“We are not aware of a big problem,” said Matt Nielson, chief financial officer for the City of Rexburg.
“We have a harsh winter,” Nielson said. Since homelessness is not one of the bigger issues in Rexburg, little funding is used on it. Nielson said that is why there are no homeless shelters in Rexburg itself.
Nielson said that the Rexburg community helps those in need. Most money to help the homeless comes from anonymous donors, local Latter-day Saint wards and the Salvation Army.
Barbara Duffield, former policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), told USA Today in a 2013 article that “she believes the number of homeless students has increased over the last few years … The Free Application for Federal Student Aid tells the NAEHCY that there are 58,000 homeless students on campuses nationwide. Since colleges are not required to keep track of their homeless students, the FAFSA form is the only significant data available.”
“The Church … feels keenly a responsibility to help in a Christlike way,” according to the First Presidency statement.
Immediate and extended family are responsible for individuals who cannot care for themselves, said a former Presiding Bishop of the Church, H. David Burton, in a 2009 self-reliance manual. Burton said that it is the responsibility of bishops to provide assistance. A few online resources are available, including the NAEHCY (http://www.naehcy.org) and the National Center for Homeless Education (http://nche.ed.gov/).
Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Twelve Apostles said in a 2001 general conference talk that members of the Church can help those in need by donating fast offerings.
“I will tell you plainly one thing you can do,” Wirthlin said. “You can live the law of the fast and contribute a generous fast offering. Fast offerings are used for one purpose only: to bless the lives of those in need. Every dollar given to the bishop as a fast offering goes to assist the poor. When donations exceed local needs, they are passed along to fulfill the needs elsewhere.”
Nielson said working through the Church, like JustServe.org, and community leadership are the best ways to make a lasting impact.
Lewis said those looking to help can get involved in the community. Rexburg may not have a homeless shelter, but the Family Crisis Center, Salvation Army and shelters in nearby cities like Idaho Falls are looking for volunteers.
“The Church’s institutional response is made possible by the ongoing generous humanitarian and other contributions of Church members,” according to the First Presidency statement. “In addition, many members do what they can, as individuals and families, to support community efforts designed to assist the homeless, for which we express our gratitude.”