Face of Homelessness: Need for Help Remains
This article is the third and final in a series.
When a seed is planted, its harvest is neither promised nor easy to predict.
Nonetheless, a recent public awareness campaign launched by St. Joseph of the Pines (SJP) seems to have been a fruitful investment.
Designed to inform citizens that homelessness is a pressing issue in Moore County — and to correct the public’s misconceptions of those whom it affects — SJP’s “I Am the Face of the Homeless” campaign was launched Nov. 1 and sustained through mid-January.
Susie Buchanan, SJP director of community relations, shares outcomes that she feels directly resulted from the three-month crusade.
“On the third day of the campaign, Family Promise received a check for $1,000,” says Buchanan, adding that the organization reported “a record number of people seeking shelter [after] hearing the radio spots and seeing the posters” elemental to the campaign.
Family Promise of Moore County is a nonprofit agency that seeks to assist the homeless in the area. Other such charities include the Sandhills Coalition for Human Care and Friend to Friend, both of which have received an increased number of calls pertaining to the homeless since the campaign launched.
Among area churches, clubs and individuals who have responded to SJP’s call to action, members of the Moore County Leadership Institute (MCLI) have “chosen [to make helping] the homeless their project this year” Buchanan says, specifically focusing on the 210 children who have been identified as homeless in the Moore County School District.
MCLI members asked Anita Alpenfels, director of human resources at Moore County School District, to identify items that would most benefit children in need.
“Her answer was surprising, yet simple,” says Buchanan.
“Underwear and socks.”
Prior to the three-month campaign, St. Joseph of the Pines conducted a study to gain understanding of the public’s perception of the homeless. Dirty, unshaven addicts were a popular portrayal.
Follow-up research revealed that, while some citizens gained a broader (and more accurate) depiction of the faces of homelessness, others stuck with their initial judgments.
“The reality,” says Buchanan, “is that the average age of a homeless person in Moore County is 9.”
Hosting a shelter for the homeless is a subject with a history of heavy debate in Moore County.
“We’re trying to let the community know there’s a need,” says Buchanan. “When you’re saying, ‘Not in my neighborhood, you’re saying this to mothers and children.”
A Mother’s Story
Ashlyn Jones, who requested an alias be used to protect her family’s privacy, is a 26-year-old mother who knows, perhaps as well as anyone, that a shelter could be a valuable asset to the homeless population of Moore County.
She knows because she and her family have been homeless. They have likewise overcome it.
“Moore Buddies connected me to Family Promise,” says Ashlyn of a time when she had nowhere else to turn. “It was the stepping stone that enabled us to ultimately make it.”
How It All Started
Ashlyn’s path to homelessness began long before she was without a home.
“I had a bad childhood,” she says, describing home life in flashes — drugs, abuse, neglect and encounters with authority. “I could spend hours talking about how bad it was.”
At age 12, Ashlyn ran away from home but was sent right back. By 14, she was pregnant. A year later, she reported her drug-using mother as unfit.
“I knew the Department of Social Services wouldn’t let a 15-year-old live with her boyfriend,” she says, “but if I didn’t have someplace else to go, I was told I would be separated from my daughter.”
Hence, Ashlyn asked to stay with her mother’s ex-boyfriend, a convicted felon, with whom she lived until she had a better idea.
“I convinced DSS that my mother had reformed, and advocated to go back home,” Ashlyn says. “My mom was then able to sign for me to get married, which was my way out of the system.”
“Looking back, that was actually pretty genius,” she says.
The Rise and Fall
“We put a lot of miles on our feet,” Ashlyn says of herself and husband, Zach, who moved into an efficiency apartment as wedded teens.
“We walked to church, walked to school, walked the baby to day care,” she says, adding that she and her husband walked to their respective jobs too.
They paid $200 for their first car, which broke down at their first stop sign. A ’77 Lincoln was the next investment.
“We had to cut the car off and on with a pair of pliers,” she recalls.
Still, transportation made life much easier. Thus, when a more appealing living situation in Sanford beckoned, Ashlyn and Zach packed the car and made the move.
“Our jobs transferred, but a month after we moved our car broke down,” Ashlyn says. “Nothing was in walking distance there. We had no network and no connections. There was no answer.”
In a rural area, Ashlyn says, “A car is where everything starts.”
For three months, Ashlyn, Zach and their daughter stayed in shelters provided by Family Promise.
“The shelter gave us the opportunity to help ourselves,” Ashlyn says. “It wasn’t like, ‘Here’s $500,’ it was, ‘Here’s a place for you to crash. We’ll help you find a job, but your path to success is up to you.’”
That was 11 years ago.
Ashlyn currently works for a nonprofit agency that serves families and individuals facing hardships similar to those she has experienced. She and Zach have two children, and have taken on parental roles for two of Ashlyn’s siblings.
“With my job, I see a lot of people who think programs [for the homeless] empower people to lean on the system,” Ashlyn says. “But there are people who are using these programs and agencies as legitimate stepping stones, who then turn around and give back to the community.”
Ashlyn is a case in point.
“I’m one person who has been helped, but I have four kids,” she says. “The trickle-down effect is what’s important.”
How to Help
Helping the homeless of Moore County can be as simple as signing SJP’s petition of support, found at www.iamthefaceofthe homeless.org.
To discover the different ways you can help, visit www.iamthefaceofthehomeless. org or contact Susie Buchanan at (910) 246-3125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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