Giving the homeless a second chance
♦ Rockmart Homeless Initiative seeks to give people safe space with resource center
Homelessness happens for many reasons. A spouse, child or family member dies and sends people into a spiral they can’t control and have no breadwinner to help them through.
Mental illness is a leading reason why people are homeless, especially in the aftermath of the closure of the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome in years past. There’s too the problem of drugs, which starts with the first hit of methamphetamine or heroin, and usually ends for people with being evicted for not paying rent, or under arrest and at the Polk County Jail, only to get out and have nowhere to go.
Financial hardships come in many forms, and a lot of people are just one lost paycheck away from not making rent and being evicted.
It’s a problem the Rockmart Homeless Initiative seeks to tackle on an individual level, one helping hand at a time and bring people back to being productive members of society.
The organization, which now has daytime storefront people can come and access meals and find a variety of assistance on South Marble Street, began their mission in 2011 to provide assistance to those in the community fallen on hard times.
Victoria Millhollan is one of the original board members of the organization and still going strong in the mission to help the homeless of Rockmart reclaim their lives. She said the efforts began when she volunteered with another organization doing similar good deeds.
“I’d been actively working with the homeless through Helping Hands,” Millhollan said. “A group of people sought me out and asked me to come to a meeting, and I did. We originally started out from that meeting forming RHI.”
She’d been keeping supplies in her car for the past several years, getting involved in outreach with barbecues and dinners at Rockmart Presbyterian and simply going into the streets to meet people where they are.
Then last year, the city approached the organization about providing help with a cold weather shelter for the homeless and watched it come together with positive results. “That was super cool,” she said. Fast forward to April of this year,
and an opportunity came open to provide additional services out of their new South Marble Street storefront. So was born a new daytime resource center for the Rockmart Homeless Initiative.
It provides breakfast brought in by volunteers and usually sandwiches for lunch, along with places for someone who is homeless and without a place to sleep to get a few hours of rest before having to leave for the evening.
Millhollan added that resources like food and water, or being able to give out tents makes a difference as well.
But most importantly, one of the first steps they take with anyone seeking resources from RHI is asking a simple question ‘do you have some form of identification?”
It’s one of the first steps for those seeking to regain their livelihoods, since having a state issued form of identification is required for getting a job, finding a place to live and opening a bank account among a myriad of other things.
RHI’s new location can act as a stable address for those without, and volunteers have been actively helping those who don’t have anything to prove they are who they say they are get identification, which can lead to greater resources.
“For instance, for people to get food stamps they have to have an ID of some kid, and then someplace to mail it,” Millhollan said. “We’re that address, we’re their phone number, we’re their referral.”
The resource center is always in need of financial assistance and food, clothing and other donations to help those who are on the streets and have no other options. However just as important is people taking part in the organization as well, and learning about the issue first hand.
Volunteers are especially needed for weekend time when the center is usually closed. Currently they’re open according to a limited schedule and don’t offer any services overnight, but are hoping to go to a schedule open seven days a week by early December.
“Each month we’re adding a day of service,” she said. “This month we’re adding Monday, and in November we’re adding Friday and Saturday in December, and Sundays weather permitting.”
Even if someone needs to lay down during the day for a while, they have that opportunity at RHI’s Resource Center as well, especially if they are ill or haven’t slept the prior night somewhere else.
“We’re here to help,” Millhollan said. “To show these people that they are worth it. They just need a little help out.”
Getting that trust from a population otherwise not seen immediately by society isn’t always easy to do.
So a main goal is to be a place at the very least that offers people a dry place to come in and take a load off, if only for a little while. They also offer food boxes, camping supplies, clothing, and if anything a permanent address all free of charge.
RHI does offer some items up for sale to the public as a way of providing additional revenue outside of donations, but mainly run off the generosity of the community.
The organization is offering up a chance for the community to see their progress during an open house event coming up among the festivities surrounding the Riverwalk Festival on the Euharlee coming to downtown Rockmart on Oct. 20.
Also, anyone who is interested in volunteering can get in touch by calling 678-6856385, or e-mailing [email protected] rockmarthomelessinitiative.org.
Or if people want to see how well the program is working, Millhollan said they are welcome to visit while the resource center at 225 S. Marble St. is open, and lend a hand. She said the results are in the kind of help they are providing, like being able to ensure a family with young children aren’t sleeping outdoors and have at least a hotel room to stay in while other resources to help them are sought out.
She said other ways the organization is reaching out into the community are providing positive outcomes as well.
“I think it is,” Millhollan said. “Regardless of criticism. Heavy criticism. If you come in and you’re here, you’ll see the change.”
Regina Hosey, a former social worker now offering her help to RHI, pointed to one family who came through the resource center seeking assistance, and had moved into an apartment just last week.
“They’d been in their car and their family – mom, dad and granddad all with health issues – and three little children. But they’re all in an apartment as of today.”
However to get help, volunteers point out that even though they don’t judge anyone seeking help coming into their doors they still have to do the hard work themselves.
“You have to make the effort. You have to come through the doors here,” she said. “We want them to have skin in the game, and they do. They work the programs, and by the time they have their IDs and have a job and have an apartment, they have self-worth back. They are worth something.”
One future goal is to establish an actual overnight shelter the organization can direct people toward, but at the moment the kind of place they seek isn’t allowed under zoning rules put forth by the City of Rockmart, according to Millhollan.
She instead is looking for someplace close to the city limits to provide overnight stays, a project thus far in the works.
Ultimately though, what the organization wants to achieve is getting as many people back into a home as possible.
Patricia Anderson, a brand new volunteer from Rockmart, added her own thoughts to how much she’s learned about the issues in just a past few weeks of working at Resource Center. She said she didn’t realize just in her brief time how much homelessness has touched various people in her own life.
“We all know somebody who is homeless or on the verge of homelessness, whether you know it or not,” she said. “We’re prideful people, so they don’t just come out and say it. This affects literally everyone in our community… this is affecting every family, and I firmly believe that this community wants to help people but don’t know how.”
Maybe a stop by the resource center with canned goods or a few blankets might be a good starting point.
Victoria Millholland, Regina Hosey and new volunteer Suzette Hembree stand by a needs board at the Rockmart Homeless Initiative’s daytime resource center on South Marble Street. Their needs are ever growing, but the best way to support the organization is financial help.
The Rockmart Homeless Initiative acts not as a shelter, but a place for people to come during the day and have an address or grab a meal on South Marble Street in the historic downtown area.