By MARK WOHLANDER.
Over the past few years, the numbers of those who are homeless has soared across our country. In 2018, the number of reported homeless has grown to more than 550,000. Of that number, it is reported that 67-percent are individuals, while 33 percent are people in families with children. For most, those numbers are only numbers, numbers without faces. For most, the old adage “out of sight, out of mind,” is the way to think about the homeless.
While “out of sight, out of mind” is the adage for most, there is a movement afoot throughout Eastern Kentucky’s school districts which has not only put a face on the homeless, but also, a movement which is doing something about homelessness, one tiny house at a time. These Eastern Kentucky students and teachers have replaced the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind,” with a new adage, an adage which could be summed up in a just a few words, “Tiny houses, big ideas, restoring hope.”
Recently, we were introduced to the story of Rebecca Carriker, an 18-year-old student from Harlan County. Rebecca’s courage and willingness to share her story of living in what has been labeled as substandard housing, has exposed the other numbers of the thousands of neighbors, friends and the forgotten who start and end each day wondering what today, tomorrow and the weeks and months ahead will offer. Although we now have the face of Rebecca Carriker, what most cannot fathom is that in Kentucky there are more than 25,000 other Rebecca Carriker’s, more than 25,000 other students who are considered homeless.
Until recently, until this group of caring teachers and students in Eastern Kentucky high schools, there was little being done, and even less being said about the homeless. But that was yesterday, and just like times past, the people of Eastern Kentucky, and better yet, the next generation of Eastern Kentucky leaders have taken it upon themselves to step forward to offer solutions to homelessness, not simply excuses.
Under the umbrella of Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative’s “Building it Forward” project, Eastern Kentucky’s high school students are providing solutions to homelessness one tiny house at a time. Instead of out of sight out of mind, these young high school entrepreneurs have adopted that can-do spirit which has been the cornerstone of the people of Eastern Kentucky for generations, these students and their dedicated teachers have rolled up their sleeves, picked up their hammers and have built one tiny house at a time.
What we see happening in Eastern Kentucky today is a “big idea” to build “tiny houses,” houses which will not only restore hope in Eastern Kentucky, but tiny houses which could literally restore hope across America. Imagine a building industry in Eastern Kentucky growing up around these student entrepreneurs. Imagine the jobs which a tiny house industry could bring to Eastern Kentucky, jobs fueled by the can-do spirit of Eastern Kentuckians who have never seen a problem without a solution. Even better still, imagine this tiny house idea spreading across Kentucky to other high schools where Kentucky students could not only learn skilled trades, but where Kentucky students could fuel answers for the more than 550,000 homeless who have no place to call home.
What we see happening in Eastern Kentucky should remind all Kentuckians of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” This spirit of caring is the real reason behind the success of the people of Eastern Kentucky, a spirit of caring and a can-do attitude which have been passed down from generation to generation, and a spirit which could someday change the face of the homeless not only in Kentucky, but across America.
So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place where Eastern Kentucky’s friendly and hardworking people can come together and shout loudly to the world that the can-do spirit and spirit of caring is alive and well in Eastern Kentucky, a spirit which is spreading across the region by the can-do and caring Eastern Kentucky students and teachers who are the reason for the success of the people of the mountains.