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Liberty not part of homeless count
75 area families without shelter
Charles Johnson - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones
Charles Johnson is 34, but often looks like a lost child as he aimlessly wanders the streets of Hinesville.
On Friday afternoon, he sat in the gazebo behind the Coastal Bank on Main Street.
Wearing clothing made of plastic bags, bubble wrap, tape and newspaper, Johnson often gets the attention he seems to be searching for.
“People stare at me all the time,” the self-proclaimed drag queen said as he pushed a bushel of multi-colored hair weave away from his face. “They see me and they don’t know who I am so they just stop and stare.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know.”
Johnson said he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and his drag-designs help him feel good about who he did not turn out to be.
His disparity has caused him not only to be the object of ridicule, but has also had him threatened, arrested and, more recently, evicted from his home. He said his Social Security income was not enough to cover rent and other living expenses.
Johnson hesitated to admit it, but said he is now what one would consider homeless.
“In other words, do I have my key to my own place? The answer is no,” the Kalamazoo, Mich., native said.
According to Hinesville’s Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard and Katheryn Preston, executive director of the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness, situations such as Johnson’s are typical for Georgia’s homeless population.
“The definition of homeless is any person who does not have a permanent place to stay,” Howard said during an interview on Jan. 5. “The numbers include those who may be traveling or those who are staying with friends or family.”
Preston said according to state figures, people like Johnson account for 45 percent of the homeless population. They are what is described, she said, by the Housing and Urban Development as the chronic homeless.
“Those with mental illness and the ones who are homeless more than four times in the year,” Preston said.
According to Liberty County officials, there are 75 homeless families living in Hinesville.
The number of Georgia’s homeless families with children is on the rise across the state Preston said, as well as the number of homeless veterans returning from foreign wars.
However, tonight when the Georgia Department of Community Affairs conducts its second state-wide homeless count, Johnson and the homeless living in Hinesville will not be counted.
“Thirty out of 159 counties are participating,” Preston said. “Liberty County is not one of them.”
On Jan. 5, Howard and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said they didn’t know about the survey. Attempts to find out if they had tried to set up the count here were not successful.
Preston said that whenever her organization holds a training session Hinesville is represented and seems to “stay in the loop.”
The survey is an effort she said she hopes will continue for Johnson’s, and all the other homeless living in Georgia, sake.
“Ultimately, I hope at some point in time, things will come together around the state where there will be a full state count,” Preston said. “We’re going to have to start doing things outside the box and that way we won’t be stuck in the silo quite as much.”
And that way, she said “people like Charles Johnson can get the help that they need.”
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