Finding solutions to homelessness calls for coordinated efforts

By Maryann Schroder

On a warm November afternoon in downtown Athens, a woman sat on a concrete barrier holding a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless. Anything helps.” A styrofoam bowl in front of her contained two dimes and a quarter. Next to her were garbage bags, two stuffed with clothing, one partially filled with canned food.

The Sparrow’s Nest, a mission serving homeless in Athens, had just distributed winter clothing and blankets. The woman wore the jacket she received and kept other items close to her.

Outreach and services for the homeless help people survive. National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day is December 21st, designated to remember those who died while homeless and advocate for those still unsheltered. The date is set to coincide with the longest night of the year.

“Sometimes people die out there,” said Jamie Scott, executive director of the Sparrow’s Nest.  “They just don’t get services or medical attention.”

The U.S. Center for Disease Control promotes the day of remembrance and considers it an urgent reminder of what needs to be done. Chief among those is the need to bring public and private resources together to help people survive and find housing. New mandates by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also call for coordination to streamline the process of bringing people into a system of care to meet those goals.  Continue reading “Finding solutions to homelessness calls for coordinated efforts”

Coalition readies for annual count of homeless

By Maryann Schroder

As 2017 approaches, Ryan Halsey, community development coordinator with Athens-Clarke Unified Government, and members of the Northeast Georgia Homeless and Poverty Coalition, begin thinking about numbers that will come in from their annual count of Athenians without shelter.

One morning in late January, they will visit homeless camps identified by Athens-Clarke Police to speak with those they meet. They will collect information about duration of homelessness and characteristics such as veteran status and disability. They will combine that with counts from emergency shelters and breakfast programs, and counterparts across the nation will do the same.

The data will help assess progress toward goals of Obama Administration’s Opening Doors, a strategic plan to end homelessness among veterans, chronically homeless, and families. It is an immense goal, tackled by addressing needs specific to each of those populations, according to David Pirtel, public education coordinator of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Recent counts have been encouraging. Homelessness in Athens has more than halved in the six years since Opening Doors went into effect, declining from 496 to 224. Halsey is hopeful that the 2017 count will show continuing decline. Continue reading “Coalition readies for annual count of homeless”

Kitchens hopes to find way out of homelessness

By Maryann Schroder

Toney Kitchens wakes before sunrise each morning. He selects from among clothes he has on hand and heads out to breakfast prepared by Action Ministries. Within the hour he will be sitting on a bench, his home base for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Kitchens has been homeless for three years since losing his job as a live-in farm hand. He knows how to get by, where to go for meals, showers, and laundry. He claims a bench on College Square as his daytime spot and locates places to sleep at night – a bed of pine straw in good weather, a stairwell in foul conditions.

But another winter is approaching, and Kitchens hopes to find a place to live. The problem is that he does not know how to escape from the net of circumstances that entrap him. Continue reading “Kitchens hopes to find way out of homelessness”