The face of the homeless has changed over the years, and locally is different than that shown on TV from neighboring cities like Dayton or Cincinnati, according to Greg Hawkins, executive director of the Highland County Homeless Shelter
“We’re getting men, women and children from varying age groups and backgrounds,” he said. “We have people in our shelter who are there because a spouse passed away, they’ve lost their pensions or been evicted from their apartments and other situations, so we never know who is going to come through our doors.”
Tammy DeLong, the shelter’s administrative director, said the circumstances that lead people to seek help at the homeless shelter vary from person to person.
“You don’t know when a tragic event will occur and it could happen to any of us,” she said. “And sometimes it does happen when a person doesn’t make the right choices in life. You don’t just wake up one day and find yourself on the street, there are events that led up to a person being homeless. But sometimes, being homeless is through no fault of your own – life just happens.”
She said the escalating opioid crisis has been a major catalyst in the homeless problem, with many of the shelter’s clients completing rehabilitation and then trying to take the next step into getting their lives back on track in finding employment.
“That’s where we come in,” she said. “They can stay at our facility temporarily, find a job, save up some money, and then finally get a place of their own and end the cycle of homelessness.”
Hawkins said that while the homeless problem isn’t overwhelming, the number of people seeking help is substantial, with the homeless shelter seeing about 150 clients annually. He said the problem is more hidden in a rural setting, with people staying under bridges, sleeping after hours at the post office, living in parks or abandoned houses, or “couch surfing” with different relatives.
Amatha Farrens, incoming chair of shelter’s board, said that as a governing board its duties are to aid and support the operation of the shelter and assist its staff in their daily duties.
“We try to oversee and make sure that they have enough in terms of support for their facility, community outreach and the general needs,” she said. “We want to help those who are the face of the shelter, and to show the community what we do and how we do it for those less fortunate.”
She was quick to clear up the misconception that the homeless center isn’t a half-way house or “drop-in” center, saying that because the facility is state and grant funded, there are specific rules and guidelines as to who can be housed there.
Farrens said that in most counties shelters are gender restrictive, while the Highland County facility houses both men and women, and also families.
The shelter gets its funding from matching grants and in outgoing chair Joanna Mahan’s words, “the kindness of others,” and the matching grants must be matched through local donations in order to secure the full grant amount.
“When we are awarded a grant, we have to match it,” she said. “There have been reports in the past where we received a high dollar grant, but if we only raise $20,000 locally, then we only get $20,000 of that grant, so we still need the folks locally to support us.”
According to the HCHS website, there are several ways to support the local homeless shelter, one of which is a matching funds campaign through RiverHills Bank.
RiverHills will match every donation, dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 through Nov. 30.
Another is a collaborative effort with Avon independent fundraising representative Brandy Jordan where 40 percent of purchases will go to the local homeless shelter.
Purchases can be made online at www.avon.com/fundraiser/hchs.
The website also said that Kroger shoppers can help through the community rewards program, where a portion of the grocery bill is donated to the shelter at no extra cost to the shopper.
Hawkins said the Highland County Homeless Shelter is open 365 days a year and offers assistance and support for up to 28 men, women and children, for a maximum of 90 days.
Beds, food and shelter are provided, he said, along with access to essential programs and services that enable homeless individuals to rebuild their lives.
The shelter serves Highland County and the surrounding area.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.