Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas Jr. proclaimed this week Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week on Tuesday at city hall during a town hall meeting organized by Homeless Prevention Program coordinator Daisy Jones, who works in the city’s Community Development Department.
“This is the first time we’ve observed Homeless and Hunger Awar eness Week,” the mayor said before his official proclamation. “There is a homeless problem in Hinesville, but there’s also a solution. I believe when you touch the hearts of people — when people are made aware there is a need — they will help.”
Thomas said the best way to fight homelessness is to prevent people from becoming homeless. He said the community needs to help families in which one or both wage earners have lost a job. Job-search assistance is important, but if someone is lacking what the mayor calls “life skills,” then training programs that promote self-sufficiency are useful. Hinesville has just such a life skills training program, he said.
Thomas concluded his introductory remarks, then turned everyone’s attention to a five-minute video about homelessness in Georgia. Each story featured helped to reshape the preconceived notions some people may have regarding the homeless. They’re often thought to be alcoholics or drug addicts, but the video was designed to debunk such myths. After the segment, Thomas introduced the first of nine guest speakers, who, through their roles as community leaders, are working to combat homelessness.
United Way of Liberty County Executive Director Jennifer Darsey said she was totally unaware of the homelessness problem when she moved here 10 months ago. Since then, she said, her office has helped people prepare public housing application packets and buy bus tickets so they can get back home.
The Rev. Herman Scott of the Homeless Coalition talked about the new face of homelessness, which was depicted in the video. He said his coalition is a group of local agencies that come together to do what they can. One day, he said, the reverend hopes he’ll be found on the “right side of Matthew 25,” a reference to the biblical passage: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
The Rev. Richard Hayes, representing Faith Based Efforts, said his organization works with 150-200 local churches in Liberty County. He agreed with Scott’s comments and added that churches need civic organizations and vice versa in order to really do something about homelessness and hunger.
Hinesville Housing Authority’s Debra Williams told the crowd that more than 400 people are on a waiting list for public housing. She explained that the city has just over 200 housing units available, and they have a policy of giving preference to applicants who are enrolled in Hinesville’s Homeless Prevention Program.
Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said the school system already has identified 48 homeless students this school year. In addition to providing these students with free breakfasts and lunches, the school system also gives them school uniforms, she said.
Scherer was followed by Carol Hough, a Waldo Pafford Elementary School art teacher whose students made posters to publicize Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week. Hough brought a large wooden board displaying samples of the children’s artwork and admitted that this particular assignment was a “real eye-opener” for her.
Charli Shearer of the Kirk Healing Center brought home the reality of the changing face of homelessness by telling her personal story of homelessness. As a single adult with a college degree who was honorably discharged from the Air Force, Shearer was surprised to find herself homeless, but it happened. She now works to help others who are in the same position. Shearer said her agency has two homes for single adults — one for men and one for women. She reminded the meeting attendees that the smallest gesture can help the homeless and asked the community to support her agency and others.
Liberty County Manna House Director the Rev. Katrina Deason was the last — and one of the most moving — to speak. Illustrating the level of need in the local community, she said her food bank served 1,078 people in September alone. Even as homelessness persists and economic conditions remain poor, Deason reiterated the importance of having faith in God and in the goodness and kindheartedness of people in the Hinesville community.
“I think we’re going to make it through the storm,” she said.