Leaders of agencies helping the homeless or economically struggling say they have seen an increase in the number of clients they have helped.
It’s why AMEN House, Elizabeth’s Village, Gathering Place and area churches have been part of a task force meeting with government leaders on how to address the root causes of the rising number of homeless or those struggling to keep their homes.
In the meantime, the agency leaders will be on the frontline providing food and what assistance they can to those who come seeking help.
Each of them say they see different reasons why someone comes to them, but mostly it comes down to a lack of affordable housing in Georgetown that has many families living on the edge of homelessness.
“A lot of clients walk that thin edge of balancing all their bills, including paying the rent,” said Michele Carlisle with AMEN House. “They are right on the borderline and they have one event that sends a ripple effect through their entire lives and budget.”
“The biggest crisis we have seen is not enough low-income housing in Georgetown and Scott County. Rent is so expensive,” said Donna Darnell with Gathering Place. “$10 an hour jobs don’t go very far and then they are trying to stay afloat. It takes awhile to find a place for someone to afford. Many are trying to get a roommate so they can afford a place. They want to work, they just can’t make it out there.”
Gathering Place offers 10 beds for men and up to 16 for women and/or children at a given time. In the winter, mats can be put down in the community room so people can come in out of the cold.
“We have a waiting list at each shelter and they stay full,” Darnell said. “During the winter, we work with the police and sheriff’s office who bring folks in out of the cold at all hours.”
Elizabeth’s Village has nine beds at its transitional home downtown for the women and children it serves and stays full, said Kandice Whitehouse. A year ago, an outreach program was launched to work with people at risk of becoming homeless.
“We had an overwhelming response for its first year. The program sets up a case manager to work with the clients to build up skills and learn what caused the situation and how to prevent it from happening again,” she said. “We prevented homelessness for 50 homes last year. We have gotten some additional funding this year and hope to have a bigger impact.”
At-risk homelessness is defined as having received an eviction notice because the rent is not available or sometimes the person has turned 18 and told by their parents to move out, Whitehouse said.
“We do what we can to help them maneuver through the situation and get through it, and then work on budgeting, savings, work skills, anything they need to work on to become more stable,” she said. “A lot of the women we work with are single income households. It is hard enough by yourself, but then add children, and it gets a lot harder on one income to pay the rent, food, clothes and school supplies.”
Again, Whitehouse identified lack of affordable housing as one of the root causes of stress for those struggling to keep their homes or being homeless.
“Apartments and housing on a single income is hard to find, and what is available stays full,” she said. “Affordable quality childcare so they can work is also really hard to find. All this is a dynamic they have to work through.”
Deciding whether to use what resources they have to pay rent or food is a constant struggle, which is where AMEN House and others step in.
“We lean on our partners, Elizabeth’s Village and Gathering Place on housing. They do housing well, and we stay in our lane which is food,” Carlisle said. “The one exception is financial assistance if there is a crisis and we can help use some of our limited funds to help with housing.
“For example, this is used for someone who may be on medical leave from work and they need some help in that moment in time. As soon as they heal, they will be back at work.
“We try to help in those instances or put them in touch with someone who can because once somebody becomes homeless, it is a whole different ballgame.”
AMEN House offers various types of food. For example, if someone is living in their car and doesn’t have access to refrigeration or heating, they have pop-top cans of food for those clients.
“All they need for that allocation is a photo ID. We call that shelf staples, which is different than the typical food allocation. They wouldn’t get eggs, milk or frozen meat,” Carlisle said. “We also offer a sack lunch program for the truly homeless and completely unsheltered. The shelf stable food is too heavy to carry around. So they can come in, no questions asked, every day of the week and get a sack lunch of a sandwich, water, etc.
“If they come in and say it is me and three people in my tent, they get four lunches. We’ve definitely seen a drastic growth in that program.”
The lunches are made from food rescues from Walmart, Kroger, Starbucks and Little Ceaser’s pizza. In all, AMEN House has seen the number of people they have helped each year continue to grow.
“We had 855 requests for food last month,” Carlisle said. “Hunger can hide anywhere.”
Gathering Place also offers its residents three meals a day, and others in need can come in for the 1-2 meals a day prepared in the kitchen. Residents also learn job skills and organizers help with job placement.
“It’s not a free ride. They have to learn a structure and get a job. We work with a temp agency and usually can find them a job in three days,” Darnell said. “If they are battling addiction, we put them in touch with the Angel Program at Georgetown Police Department and send them to recovery.”
There’s also churches throughout the county who can lend a hand. For example, five churches — Grace Christian, Georgetown Baptist, Faith Baptist, Northside Christian and Regeneration Church — have formed a cooperative to offer financial assistance and holistic support to overcome the situation they may find themselves in.
Steve McClain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.