Originally created 01/09/01

Homeless crowd shelters



With 33 cents to his name and everything he owns in a plastic grocery bag, Thomas "T.J." Hayes cuddled up on the hard floor of the Augusta-Richmond County Law Enforcement Center for a night's rest.

He couldn't stay at the Salvation Army shelter because he had been drinking, he said. He couldn't face last Friday night's wintry temperatures, either.

"When it gets into the 20s, blankets don't work no more," said Mr. Hayes, 53.

So he went came to the same place he spent Christmas, a 24-hour facility where dozens of homeless people have sought refuge during the past month's record-breaking cold. Mr. Hayes found a place outside the State Court judge's office door, where a short wall forms a cubbyhole and he could sleep out of sight.

Often, it takes harsh weather to draw out the destitute population, and those who typically sleep under bridges, in cars or in vacant houses flock to public buildings for heat or air conditioning. Such weather often puts Augusta's shelters at full capacity.

Looking for input on better ways to deal with an estimated 5,500 to 6,000 homeless population, Augusta Task Force for the Homeless will hold a forum at 12:30 p.m. today at the Oak Pointe Activity Center, 730 East Boundary. The forum will be open to the public, and task force Executive Director Sharon Caldwell is urging government officials, police officers, builders, educators, religious leaders, health providers and public transportation representatives to attend.

"If we're missing the mark, we want to know what other people have to say about it," Mrs. Caldwell said.

Along with pooling resources to handle the problem, Mrs. Caldwell said, she hopes the quarterly forums will draw attention to it. She said the homeless are almost an "invisible population."

"But they're out there moving around," she said. "Working people don't usually see them, but if you know where to cruise and look, it's obvious."

The homeless are known to congregate in flophouses such as the crumbling, yellow-brick bungalow at 709 Eighth St., according to the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. The body of a homeless man in his 50s was found draped over the windowsill at the rear of the house Monday, Lt. Jack Francisco said.

No signs of trauma were found, so the body is being sent to the crime lab to determine the cause of death, the lieutenant said. A friend found the man's body just before noon.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.