Giv­ing the home­less a se­cond chance

♦ Rock­mart Home­less Ini­tia­tive seeks to give peo­ple safe space with re­source cen­ter

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­sta­nard­jour­nal.net

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.

/ Kevin Myrick

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.

/ Kevin Myrick

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.

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