The Faces of Homelessness
Recently five Sandhills women sat around a table at a popular local lunch spot talking about the plight of being homeless in Moore County.
If a casual bystander had been asked to pick out which two of the women were homeless, probably he or she would have been hard pressed to make the right choice.
The face of homelessness can be hard to detect, but the problem is severely impacting families and single people who have lost their jobs, or have had serious health issues preventing them from working. In Moore County, the faces of the homeless can belong to a single mother with an infant, an elderly man who is a veteran, or an African-American mother trying to raise children by herself.
The first-ever informal homelessness survey in the county, covering schools, medical institutions and shelters, counted 1,110 instances of homelessness in 2009, and a recent survey for the month of September showed 208 instances of homelessness for families and single persons.
Getting an accurate count for the homeless in Moore County is difficult because there are reports of people sleeping in cars in the driveways of relatives who aren’t able to house them, and numerous families who stay in a motel temporarily — so many in fact that one motel on U.S. 1 is a regular school bus stop. There are others who double up with friends for short periods of time, until they can find another friend or relative to stay with for a while.
One of the agencies in Moore County dedicated to alleviating homelessness is Family Promise of Moore County, a nonprofit organization. Last year it offered 2,745 nights of shelter to 68 individuals and 49 children. Susan Bellew, executive director of that organization, points out that they provide shelter, meals and hospitality to homeless families with children through a cooperative network of local congregations.
FPMC also gives assistance in the areas of transportation, compassionate supportive services, and advocacy to assist those who are without a home in achieving their potential of independent living. Eligibility requirements include being employed or actively pursuing employment or receiving Social Security disability benefits, as well as being drug and alcohol free and not suffering from an untreated mental illness.
Elizabeth was a client of Family Promise. She says that she came from a stable family background, graduated from Sandhills Community College with a degree in criminal justice and subsequently left the area.
Then, an unfortunate set of circumstances prompted her to move back home after the birth of her second child.
“I had lost a lot of money, I had lost my car in an accident, and had no place to turn,” she says.
She describes a deteriorating relationship with her parents, who were also raising her niece.
“We argued all the time, and I was constantly put down,” Elizabeth says. “I couldn’t go back to my job in corrections in Raleigh because of a lack of transportation. I started working at a local retail store on a part-time basis at minimum wage and went on countless interviews trying to find a job that would pay me enough to support my family on my own. When things got too bitter with my parents, I relied on Family Promise.”
Ultimately, Elizabeth found a job as an office manager for a contractor, and she is learning new skills. She has transportation through the Family Promise Wheels for Work program and has recently moved into an apartment in Southern Pines housing.
Until Elizabeth got back on her feet, the experience of being homeless was hardest on her children, now 3 and 9, she says.
“I so desperately wanted to be able to tell them that everything was going to be OK, when I didn’t know what the next day would bring,” she says. “I had never been in the position of asking for things that my kids needed. They were bewildered by being around people they didn’t know, and my son always had questions that I couldn’t answer. Trying to reassure them was the toughest part of being homeless.”
Teresa, with daughters ages 13 and 5, agrees with Elizabeth, although the story about the circumstances leading up to her being homeless is different.
She had moved to an apartment in Carthage from Davidson County and had gotten a grant to study childhood education.
“I loved working with children, even though I was providing for my daughters on a payday to payday basis,” she says. “Everything was going fine until I got a brain aneurysm and was hospitalized. While I was in the hospital, I missed one month’s payment of rent, and was evicted. It didn’t matter that I had always paid my rent on time. The owners decided that I wouldn’t be able to ever go back to work or keep up with future rent payments, so when I got out of the hospital, my daughters and I didn’t have any place to call home.”
Then Teresa heard about Family Promise. She spent her recovery days at the FPMC center in Aberdeen, and took advantage of the FPMC program with local congregations at night.
The FPMC day center serves as an address for the families, has a telephone where messages can be taken, has shower facilities and a washer and dryer. At the congregations which are part of the program, families are offered hospitality, served an evening meal and breakfast and have a safe, comfortable place to stay.
Ultimately Teresa was able to get Social Security disability benefits and was able to find housing.
“I am so proud of my daughters, who didn’t complain about the upheaval our situation caused in their lives,” she says, brushing away a tear.
How to Help
Local agencies in addition to FPMC that are seeking to make a difference in the lives of the homeless include the Department of Social Services, Moore County Veterans Services, Sandhills Coalition for Human Care, Sandhills Community Action Program, Bethesda House, Bethany House, Friend to Friend and Linden Lodge Foundation.
Calling attention to the problem of homelessness in Moore County, St. Joseph in the Pines has undertaken an extensive project, the goal of which is to educate and inform the public about who the homeless are in the county.
Susie Buchanan, director of community relations for St. Joseph in the Pines, describes the initiative that has been launched during the month of November.
“The Moore County Board of Commissioners has issued a proclamation designating “Homeless Awareness Week” as Nov. 14 – 20, and we are using radio announcements, posters in retail businesses and ads in the newspaper to get our point across,” she says. “Our purpose is to let people know how serious a problem homelessness has become. We are issuing a call to action.”
Buchanan explains there are four ways to help.
One is by signing a petition of support of the effort to do more to assist the homeless; another is to donate money to any of the agencies in the county who routinely give assistance to homeless families and individuals; or you can volunteer your time or volunteer goods.
To respond to that call to action, contact Buchanan at (910) 246-3125 or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by contacting any of the agencies mentioned.
Contact Pinehurst writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story