Not everyone has a home for the holidays. The homeless do exist here in Liberty County though they rarely are seen on the streets. Not all homeless find themselves on park benches, in tents or sleeping in their vehicles. Many area homeless individuals and families seek temporary lodgings at area motels or rely on family and friends to shelter them.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a person who is chronically homeless as someone with a disabling condition — such as serious mental illness or chronic physical illness that prevents them from working — and has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. The chronically homeless would be found sleeping in a place considered not fit for human habitation, like under a bridge or in an emergency homeless shelter, according to HUD.
However, not all homeless fit this strict definition.
“It’s cyclic,” said Daisy Jones, homeless-prevention program coordinator with the city of Hinesville. “What we’re seeing is episodes of homelessness.”
Program staffers collaborate with local churches, the Liberty County Board of Education, the United Way of the Coastal Empire, DFCS, Liberty Regional Medical Center, Fort Stewart, the Veterans Administration and other agencies, Jones said. The goal is to assist homeless individuals and families in finding temporary shelter, meet any other needs they might have and to help them progress toward self-sufficiency, she said.
Pamela Farrie, a Liberty County school social worker and homeless liaison, said the public schools offer parents information about various resources.
“There are many organizations, churches and civic groups that provide hot meals, toys and groceries to families during the month of December,” Farrie said. “We try to connect families to these opportunities in the community.”
From Jan. 1 through Dec. 19, Jones said the homeless-prevention program received 297 walk-in applicants requesting assistance. Most other requests were made by referring agencies and churches, she said. Jones stressed this does not mean this number of applicants qualified for assistance, just that they were counted as having made requests.
“We have received a total of 669 requests so far this year for assistance,” Jones said Thursday. In 2012, the program received 539 requests for assistance, she said. The program coordinator added some people submit more than one request. Requests range from information about the program to utility or rental assistance or eviction prevention, Jones said.
“We still see our normal amount of people asking for rent assistance or help with utility bills (at Christmas-time),” said Pastor Doug Harn, vice president of Liberty County’s Homeless Coalition and Manna House board member. “The same number (of clients) is going to Manna House for food.”
Harn said many individuals need help after the holiday season, in January and February, and during the summer when school is out. He said a lot of these folks get behind in paying bills, or might sink deeper in debt by acquiring “quick” loans to try to pay off rent, especially if they lost their job, got sick or had some other costly emergency.
“Once you get behind, it takes longer (to recover),” Harn said. “Most of these families are living paycheck to paycheck anyhow.”
Jones said the program offers clients financial literacy counseling to help them better manage their finances so they can avoid becoming homeless.
“There is a connection between homelessness and the lack of a high-school level education, the lack of financial literacy — meaning education about managing money. There’s a connection with underemployment,” she said.
Harn said there is much generosity shown during the Christmas holiday, but it’s after Christmas when funds begin to run low.
“We try to store our chestnuts; we try to save for those time periods,” he said.
“We were blessed to get more funds from the mayor’s Thanksgiving program,” said Pastor Herman Scott, coalition chairman.
Scott encourages residents to keep the less fortunate in mind year-round.
“I encourage folks to give to their churches and encourage their churches to give assistance to the homeless,” he said.