Anne Dunn, a member of our community, has been coordinating the Route 1 Homeless Project. For Anne, this work feels very much like a call, not just a job. With her permission, I'm reprinting here the report Anne submitted to the Howard County Homelessness board. I think Anne did a great job communicating some of the possibilities she envisions for this work.
Here's what Anne wrote:
Since December 2nd, churches have delivered 519 meals to persons living in the woods, in their cars or in motels along the Route 1 corridor. The number of persons served has averaged 20 per week, but the number varies each week.
In this process we have learned a great deal about these people and their needs. Each individual has a different story and different circumstances that have caused their homelessness. Some live in camps of 2 or in one case 4, but some live totally alone. Some have hope of better times, and others seem resigned to their circumstances. Many have either experienced shelters or have heard reports of shelters and feel this is not an acceptable alternative for them. Some of the comments have been, “If I go in a shelter with the little bit I have, I will come out with less.” A number of them do not seem to be able to cope with the crowding, and in some cases it might not be prudent to put them into a situation where there are people living and sleeping in close proximity. Others have expressed concern about drinking and drug use in shelters. For others it is the rules, and loss of freedom as they see it. For some, the familiar is more acceptable than the unknown. Some seem equipped to live in these circumstances; others are much more vulnerable.
We have found people with jobs, one who receives unemployment, people who panhandle to meet their needs, and others who have no evident source of support.
During the very cold weather we were able to meet the needs of these individuals to ensure their safety. For some it meant providing tents, extra blankets, and propane heaters designed to be used in tents so they could find enough warmth to carry them through. Two went into motels during the Code Blue nights, and one actually ended up going into a shelter at the end of the week.
As the churches have gone out to serve these people, we have found individuals who were sick and needed food and warmth. We have found a mother with three children having surgery for a brain tumor and needing subsequent chemotherapy. One woman had been living in her car that had not run since September 30th. As we have encountered these people, the churches have responded to their needs. We regularly provide clothes (particularly outerwear), hygiene items, boots, and other requested items. In some cases it is as simple as dry socks and blankets; in others it has been far more extensive.
As people have expressed their needs for help the churches have responded. In the case of the lady having surgery, she would not ask for help because she was afraid her children would be taken from her. But once the church learned of her needs they “adopted” the family and began to help her get on her feet again. They made sure the children were taken care of, they took the children to visit their mother in the hospital, they began working on getting her voucher for housing. She had gone through the process and been approved for a voucher, but because of her health issues, she had not been able to follow through. The church took this on by contacting her caseworker and helping this woman to work through the process when she did not have the strength or means to do so herself. They secured the voucher, found her a home and went in on one weekend and fixed up the house so she could move from her motel room to a home. They are also working with the children to provide for their needs including working with the older child who had dropped out of school due to the moving around to get him into a program to get his GED. All of this happened in a little over a month.
The woman who had been living in her car for 4 months had been trying to get a job, but was hampered by the fact that she had no means of transportation. A church member offered to work on her car and in less than a week, she had a car that ran and made the decision to go into a shelter so she could avail herself of the services there to help her get some medical care and support for finding a job. She is still currently in the shelter.
To date, 19 churches have expressed an interest in being involved with this project. Each week, new churches join those ranks. There is a tremendous interest from the Howard County churches to help meet the needs of the homeless people. The experience is that they respond on multiple levels with vast resources to provide assistance.
Awareness has increased as to the needs, and maybe most importantly, relationships are being formed with these people in need, and they are experiencing a sense that someone cares about them.