I hope that as you read this, you are basking in the afterglow of gracious feasting and luxurious and loving time with family and friends. The holidays can be stressful if we let them, and I wish for you and yours the patience and wisdom and love that allow us to navigate this festive time as peacefully as possible.
If you’re struggling with that (and let’s face it, some of those people in the family are on your last nerve before they even show up, and getting those turkeys in the oven at 6 a.m. was far from easy) let’s take a moment to consider life without all of the frustrations we enjoy.
If you’ve been paying attention of late, and I hope you have, the less-fortunate in our community have really taken a beating over the last couple of months. First there was the ordinance that was nearly pushed through the city commission that essentially criminalized homelessness in an attempt to support our city police in the ongoing effort to deal with the sometimes-disruptive presence of homeless folk in our downtown areas.
The response to that suggestion resulted in the creation of a very gifted task force made up of leaders from all of the local organizations that have been diligently working together on this issue for years, along with other community stakeholders. It also prompted the recovery of a well-constructed plan, commissioned but shelved by the city 10 years ago, that outlines some very productive next steps towards solving the issue of homelessness in our community.
For some perspective, let’s consider the timeline. Ten years ago, in 2009, a study was commissioned that resulted in a proposed plan of action to address homelessness in Rome, and in 2011 the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital was closed by the state — an event that is known to have added a goodly number of residents struggling with mental illness to our streets, as their options for treatment and housing were nearly non-existent. Suffice it to say that our homeless population grew significantly after that fateful decision, and it is unfortunate that a viable plan was ignored that might have allowed us to get ahead of the problem.
Step forward to 2019 and the task force, including the voices of those who have so elegantly been addressing the needs of the homeless, was able to influence a slight softening of the terms in the aforementioned ordinance. But in September the ordinance passed and allows for the arrest after a warning of people who are “urban camping” and allows that their belongings can be confiscated and disposed of at police discretion.
This may sound reasonable to you — we have all encountered that uncomfortable version of these folks living in despair — but it is a disappointing look for our community, especially for the folks who have been frantically providing support and recovery for those who find themselves in need. Arrest and loss of possessions is not a productive step for people who have already lost so much.
Most recently, a restructuring of the funding model at the local chapter of the United Way has delivered another unfortunate blow to organizations managing the chronic issue of homelessness in our community. While this new model is in line with the direction of the national structure, it has been implemented in a manner that leaves numerous nonprofits scrambling to make up the loss of funding, including every single group on the front lines of homelessness in Rome.
The good news is that United Way later announced that they will be funding a coordinator position to ensure the management of the big-picture plan for dealing with the long-term goals that are so desperately needed. But the bad news is that several very effective programs are now left in a weakened position for dealing with the needs of the individuals they already serve.
The daily successes of these organizations cannot be overlooked. The Davies Shelters, for example, recently announced that their programs have transitioned 50% of the 118 men they served in the last year from homelessness to self-sufficiency. In the past eight months, the Salvation Army has helped 20 individuals move from chronic homelessness to being securely homed. And, in just the last three months, the Hospitality House has transitioned eight families and 10 single survivors of domestic violence from the shelter into safe and secure housing.
These are just a few of the results of the good work that is being done all day, every day, by some truly productive agencies in our town. But now, more than ever, they need our help.
Change is hard, and while it can be argued that some of the changes we are seeing might be good, there is still a lot of struggle that can occur as a result. I have tremendous hope for the potential of this renewed intention in solving the problem of homelessness in our community, but we must manage that in a way that supports the work that is already very effectively in place. The Davies Shelters, Hospitality House, Open Door Home, Salvation Army, Community Kitchen and more, need our help this season!
As you navigate the holidays with your loved ones and enjoy the richness of your traditions, please remember those who are not as fortunate. And especially this year, remember those organizations that are working to help the homeless find their place so that they, too, might enjoy the joy and security of a home for the holidays. Because, after all, no matter how far away you roam, there is no place like home.
Contributions of time, resources and, most of all, money can be donated to each of these organizations by finding them on Facebook or through their websites.