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City says homeless county rising; funding dropping
Mayor Jim Thomas - photo by Courier file photo
Survey is Jan. 25

On Sunday, Jan. 25, the Georgia Coalition of Homelessness, in cooperation with 30 communities across the state, will conduct a survey to tally the number of the state’s homeless.
The 2009 count will assist the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and determine if the state will continue to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Last year’s survey determined that 20,000 Georgians were homeless and 75,000 had been homeless at some point in their lives.

Hinesville’s homeless problem might not appear as extensive as some of the state’s Georgia’s largest cities, but local officials say the city’s count is climbing, while funds to help are diminishing.
“Hinesville has a homeless problem that is larger than we would perceive,” Mayor Jim Thomas said, “and we need to get a handle on it.”
Currently, there are 75 homeless families living in Hinesville, according to officials’ numbers.
Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard said that while “the numbers are larger, and you might see more people on the streets of Savannah, one has to think about the fact that [Savannah] has more resources.”
According to Thomas and Howard, Hinesville’s homeless include individuals and families, some with three people or more, who may or may not be physically living on the streets.
“The numbers include those who may be traveling or those who are staying with friends or family,” said Howard, who also serves as the city’s director of community development.
“The definition of homeless is defined as a person who does not have a permanent place to stay.”
Under housing initiatives, such as the city’s Supportive Housing and Next Step programs, Howard said he and his staff have been able to assist several families with their needs, such as providing rent and utility assistance and emergency motel vouchers to families who have no place to stay.
“Right now, we have 15 families that we are assisting through the Supportive Housing program and Next Step. That does not include those who need emergency assistance,” Howard said. “Our funds are very limited at this point.”
To assist with the issue, Howard said the city gets grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
By the Courier’s calculations, the grant money the city receives totals up to a little more than $82,000, just shy of what it would cost to pay an average rent for only 10 families for a year.
“These are hard times for many, and we are faced with a difficult challenge of providing services for all the citizens of Liberty County,” Howard said.
Because the area’s homeless problem is not limited to just within the city, Howard said he and the mayor hope to organize a county-wide summit for a variety of agencies.
“What we want to do is say, ‘let’s talk about the homeless problem,’ and then identify the resources that are out there so that we can create a coalition,” he said. “So that if a person has needs for these types of services they will know exactly where to go to get help.”
A move, Howard said, is important for the city no matter how small the number of Hinesville’s homeless may seem.
“[Our numbers] are more than they should be, because any one person without a place to stay is too many,” he said.
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