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HOMELESS IN HALIFAX
SoVaNow.com / August 10, 2011Someone gets clothes from the Goodwill drop-box and makes a little nest on a church’s back stoop. They sleep under the bridge over the Dan River, in the beds of pick-up trucks, in the warmth of laundromats and in abandoned farm sheds.
Ministers and folks in the know say the homeless are among us – and steps are being taken to establish a shelter for them.
“They can sleep in the fields now; it’s warm,” said Pastor Jean Harris of Missionary United Soup Kitchen, who seeks out the poorest of the poor. Sometimes she lets the homeless bathe in the soup kitchen bathroom. They’re so filthy, “Sometimes I feel like I want to throw them in the river,” she shudders.
The first public meeting of the so-called Homeless Shelter Exploratory Committee was held this week, attracting about 70, from people compelled to be present because of their job to people who said they were moved to care because of their religious faith.
In the bright, immaculate fellowship hall of First Baptist Church, they fingered their iPhones and sipped from fast-food cups and agreed that the homeless are impossible to quantify and that homelessness itself is a hard thing to get a handle on. With women and children, there may be domestic abuse involved. Some of the homeless have mental illness, mental retardation. Some have substance addictions. Criminal records may render some ineligible for the support they’d otherwise receive.
Harris says the homeless are notoriously reluctant to trust because they’re obsessed with simply surviving.
“No one should live a Third-World life in a First-World country,” prayed Father Gary Butterworth of Trinity and St. John’s Episcopal churches, as the faithful, which spanned Baptists, Mormon and Church of God, bowed their heads.
The idea started with a small group of ministers; it has since grown to include laypeople and social workers.
The consensus that did seem to emerge was that the group would establish a steering committee, support committees and, as soon as possible, a physical homeless shelter that would be independent and non-profit and Christian.
“There is a need,” says the Rev. Dave Anderson of First Baptist Church on North Main Street, who is among the group’s leaders. “We just don’t see them.”
How the shelter will be funded “Is the big question,” says Anderson.
Planners want the shelter to have an unabashed Christian theme, and doing so would render it ineligible for public monies.
For information: 572-3971.
‘I became what I was working with’
The irony that she is a degreed social worker who was homeless and getting help from Social Services is not lost on Charlene Chavis-Randolph.
Chavis-Randolph is back in her home area of Halifax County and is establishing a satellite of Olmeja Advocacy Services of Richmond to help the mentally ill and, simultaneously, explore the possibility of planting a homeless shelter for Olmeja.
But earlier this year, owing to unemployment and a disastrous living arrangement with kin, she and one of her two sons found themselves living in a hotel, forking out $50 per night.
She grew depressed and needed counseling; she accepted financial aid.
“If you had told me in 2007 I’d go through this, I’d have probably laughed in your face,” said Chavis-Randolph.
She’s doing OK now, but “If there had been a homeless shelter, I could have gotten back on my feet much faster,” she said.
Chavis-Randolph has the new job with Olmeja and, thanks to a program that helped with a security deposit, a good place for herself and both of her sons, ages 12 and 18. And she always knew, she said, “I can do this; I can do this; I can do this.”
As a social worker, Chavis-Randolph knows about The System, the bureaucracy and the ways people succeed in getting their lives together — and she also knows how exasperating it can be to deal with the homeless themselves.
Ever the care-giving nurturer, Chavis-Randolph once let a homeless woman sleep on her couch for about 10 nights once until the woman’s boozing and late nights became too much to expose her children to. But why’d she even think of extending herself this way?
“People had allowed me in their house,” she said.
“Charlene has a spirit to help,” said Olmeja CEO Byron Meekins, who grew up visiting family in rural Halifax County.
Right now, Chavis-Randolph is up to six clients (since June) with Olmeja, which is funded by Medicaid, but will soon accept Medicare. She will eventually have a physical office.
Norma Smith, of Olmeja, said the homeless shelter plans, still in the early tage, came about when, trying to help one of Chavis-Randolph’s Halifax clients, no housing could be found.
For more information: http://www.olmeja.com or call Chavis-Randolph at (434) 222-9056
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