Freezing winter tests homeless shelters, those on streets

Out in the elements

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When local shelters ran out of room this winter, James Simmons found the closest bridge and curled up underneath a piece of cardboard.

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Army veteran James Simmons waits outside the Salvation Army shelter on Greene Street, hoping for a warm bed instead of another night beneath a bridge. Record low temperatures last winter endangered many homeless people across Georgia.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Army veteran James Simmons waits outside the Salvation Army shelter on Greene Street, hoping for a warm bed instead of another night beneath a bridge. Record low temperatures last winter endangered many homeless people across Georgia.

It was still light outside as Simmons, an Army veteran who hopes soon to get an apartment with help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, waited outside the Salvation Army on Greene Street this week, trying to get in so he wouldn't have to return to the bridge.

With temperatures warming across the area, it's easy to forget how hard a winter can be on the city's homeless population. It's not something Simmons will forget, though. He suffers from bronchitis, and the nights outside "made it so much worse," he said.

A life on the street comes with a long list of hardships, and some are exacerbated by the change in seasons, experts said.

Across Georgia, 52 homeless men and women died because of the weather in 2008, according to Kathryn Preston, the executive director of the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness.

Numbers for 2009 have yet to be tallied, but the record low temperatures that descended on the South do not bode well for the count.

Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten said the changing weather often brings a spike in the number of homeless deaths.

Tuten said he can't recall any homeless deaths because of the weather this winter, and his office does not keep records on them. But there have been six unclaimed bodies since January, often -- but not always -- an indication of homelessness.

Officials from local shelters said they extended their hours and capacity during winter -- the fifth-coldest in Augusta history -- so no one would be left out in the cold. Still, many had no choice. Shelters filled up quickly when the mercury dipped, as happened often.

"We were actually over 100 percent capacity more this year than we've ever had before," said Rebecca Wallace, the Salvation Army's development director.

Its shelter on Greene Street operated a "white-flag" policy this year, in which workers would raise a flag whenever the temperature dipped very low to signal that they had room for more people, Wallace said.

It was the same at Garden City Rescue Mission on Fenwick Street.

Lavond Reynolds, the men's director for the mission, said if the weather dipped below 35 degrees they would allow more people inside. This meant adjusting their rules, such as allowing drunken men into the shelter but separating them from the rest of the people, to squeeze everyone inside.

He said he dreaded the thought of someone stuck outside in the cold.

"That would just be the worst thing: to know that somebody died because of the elements -- because they could have had shelter with us," Reynolds said.

Now with milder weather on the way, officials said they expect a brief reprieve in the number of needy until the heat of summer arrives.

But warmer weather is no consolation for those living on the streets.

Will Quarterman, who is homeless despite having a part-time job, said the heat brings a whole new set of day-to-day challenges. Quarterman would often stay up at night during the winter to keep his blood moving and ward off frostbite, but now he worries about the bugs, snakes and dogs.

"It's not easy," he said. "I don't like lying on the ground. I don't like mosquitoes."

Augusta shelters

WHAT: The Salvation Army

WHERE: 1384 Greene St.

SERVES: Men, women, children

CONTACT: (706) 826-7933

WHAT: Interfaith Hospitality Network of Augusta

WHERE: 2177 Central Ave.

SERVES: Families with children

CONTACT: (706) 364-4462

WHAT: Garden City Rescue Mission

WHERE: 828 Fenwick St.

SERVES: Men, women with children

CONTACT: (706) 724-6960

WHAT: Mercy Ministries

WHERE: 1739 Fenwick St.

SERVES: Homeless and poor people at its day shelter, open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

CONTACT: (706) 737-0242

WHAT: Augusta Rescue Mission

WHERE: 526 Walker St.

SERVES: Men

CONTACT: (706) 722-2058

WHAT: Hope House

WHERE: 2205 Highland Ave.

SERVES: Women with substance-abuse problems

CONTACT: (706) 737-9879

Comments (23) Add comment
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johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 03/27/10 - 05:19 am
0
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Being homeless comes with a

Being homeless comes with a long list of bad choices throughout ones life. Well, when people couldn't or wouldn't pay for their health care, obama took from the rich (anyone with money) to buy them health care. I wonder if he'll take houses to provide for the homeless? All for one and one for all. Share and share alike. What's yours is mine and what's mine is yours. Robin Hood. All fine sentiments, which is why the elite has exempted themselves from these sentiments. They're just for the dumb masses.

DAMY46
0
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DAMY46 03/27/10 - 06:56 am
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cliff, You have a point...A

cliff,

You have a point...A lot of homeless folks choose to live the life...Many are lazy and refuse to work or seek employment...(they are just looking for a free ride and a handout).....If I lost my job on Monday I would be out on the street Tuesday searching for another one ....my 2 cents

peonynut
2
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peonynut 03/27/10 - 07:45 am
0
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What about all those empty

What about all those empty buildings that have been abandoned by stores so they could move to the newest most popular area? In this economy you'd think they would want the tax write-off by donating them to the communities. Many of the "homeless" have skills and could turn them into sleeping and eating quarters or maybe we should just bring in more foreigners and house them instead of leaving them in the Bay.

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 03/27/10 - 08:21 am
0
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Perhaps some folks should

Perhaps some folks should volunteer at a homeless shelter and listen to what homeless people have to tell. In many cases, it's not as cut and dry as you would believe. "There but for the grace of God, go I (and you)."

vetbubba99
6
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vetbubba99 03/27/10 - 09:12 am
0
0
It is a shame any homeless

It is a shame any homeless veteran has to sleep on the street or under the bridge. They gave their life to help our country and many came back to us messed up in the mind. Yes, they have a hard time abiding by rules and regulations in order to stay in shelters or the dorm due to the baggage they now carry as a result of combat and the alochol that lessens their awareness but for only a short while, but some sort of hold harmless and entry should be made at the VA for them especially in extreme heat and cold weather. Help my homeless brothers and sisters that have returned from combat scared for life and living on the streets.

punter46
0
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punter46 03/27/10 - 12:10 pm
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About "Out in the elements".I

About "Out in the elements".I know one of the guys interviewed,and he should not be in this situation.Will "Bam Bam" Quarterman has good family in Louisville,Ga. I know his family "very" well and if just stop doing what he is doing,I know he could have a warm bed to sleep in.Bam Bam if you read this,clean up your act and go to your mother or your sister in Louisville and do the right thing!!

CorporalGripweed
0
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CorporalGripweed 03/27/10 - 12:32 pm
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Any vet on the street is a

Any vet on the street is a shame. Vets in particular have choices. These I feel for because they have served their country. It's those who refuse to take the neccesary steps to change their lives that I can't abide.

missaugusta07
9
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missaugusta07 03/27/10 - 01:38 pm
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It's amazing how people still

It's amazing how people still think that all people that are homeless are lazy and it's they're fault.Damy6 I would love to see you go out and find another job after you lose one,it's not that easy.It seems to me you have been very blessed to have never walk in the shoes,and I pray that you never will,some have chosen to stay on the streets by they're own choice,some have different situations,all are'nt lazy,good for nothings.I am a Mother that had 2 small children,one was ill and my husband decided one day after I took my child to the Dr.that he would move to Florida,left me with the kids,no money,Bills got behind trying to take care of a child that is terminally ill,so my children and I ended up on the street,living in my car so before you call us all lazy and don't want to work,be careful you might be next because I never thought I would be!

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 03/27/10 - 06:51 pm
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Notice how many are men..

Notice how many are men.. just kind of interesting don't you think? How much do you think Alcohol is the biggest problem these men have? And housing is incredibly cheap in Augusta.. maybe you'd have to share an apartment with someone else, but it doesn't take that much money to make sure you have a warm bed to sleep in each night. It just means that you may have to work a little bit. As for the truly disabled, there are any of a number of programs offered for them.. such as subsidized housing. Most receive SSI or SSDI and have some form of income.

glassrinkmaker
0
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glassrinkmaker 03/27/10 - 08:34 pm
0
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Isn't that a polo shirt he

Isn't that a polo shirt he has on?

glassrinkmaker
0
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glassrinkmaker 03/27/10 - 08:35 pm
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Sorry, expanded. looks like a

Sorry, expanded. looks like a Chaps.

glassrinkmaker
0
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glassrinkmaker 03/27/10 - 08:59 pm
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If you are "truly" homeless,

If you are "truly" homeless, would you be wearing a watch and ring, or would you be like the dude in the backround with one shoe off!

glassrinkmaker
0
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glassrinkmaker 03/27/10 - 09:09 pm
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If he is a vet, and

If he is a vet, and homeless, it is his choice---PERIOD DOT!

KSL
118951
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KSL 03/27/10 - 09:12 pm
0
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Almost two years ago when we

Almost two years ago when we visited San Francisco, the homeless were not allowed to speak. They held up signs asking for help. Of course, some were wearing designer clothes (that came from my husband, not me). By the way, there weren't many.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 03/27/10 - 09:17 pm
0
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wow, I'd like to know what

wow, I'd like to know what part of San Francisco you were in.. because everytime I have been there I have seen so many homeless people.. I mean they are practically everywhere there.

FedupwithAUG
0
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FedupwithAUG 03/27/10 - 11:30 pm
0
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If i were homeless I'd be in

If i were homeless I'd be in San Fran. These guys are just lazy here in AUG.

cajunnana2000
2
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cajunnana2000 03/28/10 - 02:27 am
0
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I can truly understand a

I can truly understand a person being homeless. BUT in the case of Army Veteran James Simmons I cannot. He had a job, just as my husband did. It was his choice or his actions that caused him to not have one. So don't try to use the Army Veteran as a crutch.

corgimom
26219
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corgimom 03/28/10 - 03:37 am
0
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As for MissAugusta07- anybody

As for MissAugusta07- anybody that would live in a car with a terminally ill child should have been imprisoned for child abuse. That is neglect of the worst kind. If the story were true, of course. Of course, if the story were true, one could go to DFACS and that would be an emergency case and would get immediate assistance.

How was it that you were living on the streets with a terminally ill child and the doctors and hospitals didn't know that, because legally they have to report that? How did you call the doctor, how did they call you, how did you manage to make your appointments if you were homeless?

DAMY46
0
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DAMY46 03/28/10 - 04:42 am
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One day I drove by the

One day I drove by the Salvation Army Store (located next to the Enterprise Mill).. A contractor was mowing the grass and a group of homeless men were setting around drinking and watching.. I guess what I am saying is a lot of homeless folks are not interested in working.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 03/28/10 - 06:33 am
0
0
Homelessness is a state of

Homelessness is a state of existence. There are many reasons why this state exists for the various people and many sob stories to go with them. Most, though not every one, live on the street as a result of a LONG list of poor life choices. Most won't change their habit of poor choices.

charliemanson
1
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charliemanson 03/28/10 - 06:36 am
0
0
I can't speak for the women

I can't speak for the women who are homeless. But a good percentage of males who are homeless are mentally ill. Alcohol and drugs are the ways that the mentally ill "self-medicate" themselves.

TakeAstand
13
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TakeAstand 03/28/10 - 03:57 pm
0
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I'd have to agree a little

I'd have to agree a little corgi, especially around here. There is so much help out there its unreal. They help so many undeserving people its is hard to believe they wouldnt help a single woman with 2 kids, especially one thats terminally ill. They would go directly to the top of the list. Also, as in my sisters cases as with other women I know who have been in that position, usually it still all came down to choices, like the man they married in the beginning they already knew was a loser or showed signs of being a loser and they blindly married them anyway, thinking marriage and kids would change things, and that never works. You can't change a want to be loser into a winner, and shouldn't be suprised when they act like the loser they already were.

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