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City steps up to help homeless
Next Step Program Executive Director Tabeter Duel-Robinson (left) and program participant Ramona Parchman discuss a monthly budgeting plan. - photo by Photo by Andrea Washington
When Ramona Parchman moved to Hinesville from New Castle, Pa. in 1997, she was preparing for a fresh start with her son’s new start-up business.
“He was released from the military and he started a small cleaning company,” she said. “He wanted me to be the accountant, so I moved down and decided to stay.”
By 2006, however, the bright outlook Parchman envisioned had dimmed. She suffered a company collapse, a severe illness that caused her to withdraw from college and financial setbacks that slowly crippled her marriage.
“My husband wasn’t able to find a job in the area and we decided to separate,” she said. “He ended up leaving town and I couldn’t afford the rent by myself. I had to pack up and move in with my oldest son.”
After finding her new living arrangements “too overcrowded,” she began asking friends about housing options and was searching for roommates. She eventually moved in with a terminally ill elderly resident and became his live-in caregiver. He was given six months to live, but died sooner than expected in late October.
Help is available
Again left without a place to live and lacking the financial backing to afford a place of her own, Parchman turned to the Next Step Program for help.
The Next Step Program is an 8-year-old, homelessness prevention initiative created by the city of Hinesville to combat homelessness. 
According to Executive Director Tabeter Duel-Robinson, people in circumstances similar to Parchman’s are becoming a growing problem in Hinesville. Most residents, however, are blind to the problem because the image of local homelessness is much different from what is shown on television.
“You don’t walk down the street and see the people laying on the road, so people automatically think there’s no homeless people in Hinesville,” she said. “But by definition, homelessness is much broader. It’s individuals that may be living with someone else and their name’s not on the lease or it’s someone within two weeks of an eviction.”
Duel-Robinson said the purpose of the NSP is to take people in these situations and teach them the tools that lead to self-sufficiency and financial stability.
“Based on their needs, we set-up a plan from six months to two years that is geared toward them being able to obtain that self-sufficiency to go from homeless to homeowner,” she said.
While in the program, participants are given subsidized housing, receive financial assistance for 70 percent of their monthly bills and maintain a savings account that will serve as their financial springboard when they complete the program.
Along with attending monthly life skills classes, participants are also required to take part in bi-weekly, in-home interviews with caseworkers who make sure they are “finding full-time employment, working on their credit and paying their rent on time.”
For some, the rules may be considered too stringent, but Parchman, who is six months into her one-year plan, believes they are necessary to prepare her and others for life after the NSP.
“It’s a very serious program and you have to be cooperative in the program,” she said. “It’s to better yourself and get you on your feet and out in society again.”
Parchman, now employed full-time and living in a comfortable townhouse, said despite the drawbacks of the past 10 years, Next Step has given her the hope and confidence that better days are ahead.
“It’s a blessing. It really is,” she said with a smile. “You know everybody falls down, but regardless of how you got there, the next step is to find a way to build yourself back up.”
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