Agencies see more seeking homeless aid

More resources will become available in October to families who lose their homes because of illness or sudden emergencies.

But the changing qualifications from the Department of Hou­sing and Urban Devel­op­ment aren’t backed with extra grant money to cope with a rising tide of families displaced by a down economy, local charity leaders say.

“It’s great for the people, but it didn’t open up any more resources,” said Sarah MacDonald, the executive director of the Interfaith Hos­pitality Network of Augusta.

The new definitions of homelessness go into effect Oct. 1 and provide a tailored approach to emergency assistance.

Assistance will hinge on someone living on the street or in a place “unfit for habitation,” but it also must be tied to a “trigger event,” such as a job loss or medical emergency.

“Something triggered the situation to create the problem,” said Lynda Suarez, a resource development coordinator for the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority.

MacDonald has noticed changes in the demographics of those coming to Interfaith for help.

Since 2009, many of the clients are families who scraped by paycheck to paycheck until something upset their fragile finances. Often they’re trapped in motels or two-bedroom apartments because they can’t afford a rent deposit or the cost of moving, MacDonald said.

In the past two years, Inter­faith’s assistance has risen from an average of 10 families a year to 18.

Job searches are taking longer – the average number of days in the system has climbed from 30 to 65, MacDonald said.

“We’ve seen (the need) rise dramatically,” said MacDon­ald, adding that 158 families are on the current waiting list.

Last week, Michelle Waters was living at Wood­lawn Baptist Church on Colum­bia Road with two of her five children.

Knee and foot surgeries put her behind on bills, and she lost her husband’s support after their divorce. On June 1, she lost the home in Appling where she lived for 17 years.

It’s shocking, she said, to go from 11 acres in the country to one room with three beds.

Equally hard was asking for help.

“Who wants to say, ‘I’m about to lose my home’?” she said.

Waters has a roof over her head thanks to Interfaith’s church network and transportation from Goodwill to help her with a job search.
Her goal is to find a job and a new home by the time school starts in the fall.

There’s a misconception that
all homeless people live under a bridge, Waters said, but that’s not the case.

Waters is grateful for the assistance but eager to regain her independence.

“It’s still stressful. We move week to week, and every Sunday night it’s new faces and new people to interact with,” she said.

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