A hundred million people are estimated to be homeless in the world and the number is only growing bigger with the rise and fall of economies. It is estimated that there are another 100 million “hidden homeless” worldwide, a number which takes into account those living in abandoned houses, cars, or houses and apartments with little to no furnishings.

Dr. Mark Bergel, now deemed a CNN Hero, founded his organization after noticing the very few furnishings in the houses of those struggling to make ends meet.

Bergel started his journey as a professor at American University and eventually took on his vision to help others as a full time job. He founded an organization called A Wider Circle in 2001, a nonprofit devoted to furnishing the homes of families living in poverty, free of charge.

Since it’s founding, A Wider Circle has furnished the houses of over 125,000 people, but Bergel’s mission does not stop there. He is also committed to providing an education for those who have asked for one.

Managers from the Greater Washington Area’s homeless shelters mentioned to Bergel that an education in “life skills” and how to cope with stress would be highly beneficial for the shelters’ frequenters.

So that is just what Bergel did.

He incorporated educational programs into A Wider Circle’s mission to help lift adults and children out of poverty by communicating the importance of life skills and helping to adjust the “whole person.”

“I want to help create the change that will enable people to rise out of poverty and enjoy the freedom and independence afforded to others. Poverty is a human problem, and human beings will solve it,” Bergel explained.

After many community service trips, Bergel came face to face with the truth that many people living below the poverty line often lived without beds, tables and couches. Bergel stated that “most apartments had nothing but a chair… There was nothing that would give these people a sense of hope, [or] a sense of dignity.”

With new furnishings and one less issue to worry about Bergel hopes to give families room to breathe and the ability to start fresh.

Currently, A Wider Circle has two full warehouses complete with donated furniture, toys, clothes and clean sheets. Families are able to stop in and choose what they need from the selection.

Since donating his own bed in 2008, Bergel has been sleeping on his floor or couch. He says he intends to do so until every family in the United States has enough beds for each family member.

Bergel’s foundation is not only helping people in the U.S. to live easier lives, but he is also bringing attention to a global issue — the “hidden homeless.” By helping the lives of the “hidden homeless” in the U.S. Bergel is one step closer to addressing this issue on a global scale, and by publicizing his work, we are one step closer to inspiring others to follow his lead.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: CNN, A Wider Circle
Photo: Brown University