A child barely the age of 4 was awakened from her sleep. She looked around at her surroundings in an attempt to grasp exactly where she was and recognized that today she was indeed in one of the homes the family frequented often, however her mother was nowhere in sight. She woke up her older sister so she could get ready for school and proceeded to the kitchen in hopes of finding something for breakfast. She soon discovered that all the refrigerator contained was a pack of raw hotdogs. She gave one hotdog to her sister before heading out to walk to the bus stop. While her older sister was in school this child would sit at the bus stop all day, because she simply didn’t have anywhere to go. You see, her parents were divorced. Her father was in the military, stationed out of state and she lived with her mother. Despite her mother’s best efforts to maintain normalcy, she suffered with a severe mental illness that, when not controlled, caused her to live in a manic state, which resulted in an unstable home life.
To some this may sound like a scene from a movie or a fictitious work of literature but I can assure you that this is indeed a reality. It was my reality and it is the reality for so many children in Liberty County.
While the circumstances may be different for each family dealing with hunger or homelessness, the assumption can no longer be made that people are homeless due to being lazy and not wanting to work.
That assertion is a gross overgeneralization and an incredible injustice to those attempting to navigate through their current circumstance.
Homelessness cannot be discerned by simple eyesight or defined by a certain look. Homelessness can affect anyone who goes through an unexpected crisis and falls on hard times. These individuals can be your friends, family, church members, or co-workers and often includes veterans.
In fact, the 2016 National Point-In-Time Count data determined that there are a total of 474 unsheltered veterans in Georgia, with 11 within the Liberty County area. These individuals have families which often include children and teenagers, who are the most vulnerable population.
Studies show that experiencing homelessness negatively effects a child’s social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development. While homelessness on its own may not be traumatic, the situations that accompany it can cause trauma and additional stressors.
In 2017, the City of Hinesville Homeless Prevention Program provided 256 citizens with emergency shelter, including 105 children under the age of 18. Currently the Board of Education has deemed 84 children homeless or precariously housed.
The United Way of the Coastal Empire currently provides weekend meals for 381 students through their Backpack Buddies Program. These programs are a representation of one of the most beautiful attributes of living in a city such as Hinesville. This is a community that is engrossed with people who give their time and resources to advocate and help those in need.
During Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week November 11-17, the Homeless Prevention Program will partner with the Board of Education and United Way of the Coastal Empire through various initiatives to promote awareness, education and services to those in need.
I implore this community to continue to be the voices of compassion by supporting local agencies through your volunteerism, placing one of your rental properties on the Homeless Prevention Program Rapid Re-Housing list, or making a donation to one of the many initiatives that will assist homeless individuals and families.
Think of it as a hand up and not a hand out.