With National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in full swing, Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter’s supporters are raising funds, while shining a light on this pressing issue.
“We try to use this week to particularly let people know about homelessness in our community, about our organization and the effort we’re putting in to try to reduce, and perhaps, alleviate homelessness completely in our community,” Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter Executive Director Jessica Mitcham said. “... [We also recently] announced a new hire, and we’ll certainly be talking with folks about that next week.
“We have won a new grant with the Department of Community Affairs to create the opportunity to hire a case manager who will exclusively work in our community to locate and provide services to individuals who are living unsheltered. We’ve just offered that position to Tony Ross, and he officially started on Monday. So, all of his work will be working with partner agencies, law enforcement, churches [and] schools to try to get information about anyone who’s known to be living unsheltered and to reach out to them, make visits and try to connect them to resources in our community — certainly with the ultimate goal of trying to help as many people become housed as are interested and able.”
As Mitcham noted, the new program was bolstered by a Georgia DCA grant, which is worth $40,000.
“My understanding — and I’m sure this will be very fluid, because this is a new program — is for me to make visits into the tent villages to provide services to those in these tent cities or living in the woods without any kind of permanent shelter,” Ross said. “... I realize there’s individuals out there who really do not know how to seek the services that they need. So, my goal is to actually enter into their domain and see if there is anything that I can do to help them transition back into society.”
Along with the WBHF 100.3 FM/AM 1450 radiothon at Good Neighbor Thursday from 7 to 10 a.m., the nonprofit will benefit from bucket drives conducted at the intersection of Erwin Street and Cherokee Avenue in Cartersville Wednesday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Along with garnering pledges, the radiothon also will generate awareness as various speakers will share their shelter experiences. The community also is invited to tour the shelter, 110 Porter St. in Cartersville, during the radiothon and deliver their donations in person.
“Our goal for the radiothon is to raise $10,000,” Mitcham said. “We do have a matching donor who will match up to the first $5,000 raised. ... Generally, the bucket drive raises about $1,000.
“We receive some government funds, but even with this new grant, that number is still going to be less than 10 percent of our total budget. So, that means the overwhelming majority of the funds that we use day in and day out to provide services to homeless individuals in our community are raised locally through special events, through individuals that give and churches that give and businesses that give. So, we are always working diligently to make sure the community has plenty of ways to participate in what we do ... so we can care for so many adults and children who are homeless, living in this community.”
Since forming in 1996, Good Neighbor has served more than 7,100 people. On average, its 4,600-square-foot shelter that was built in 2001 assists about 700 individuals per year. While they are housed, Good Neighbor’s guests are required to find a job within four weeks, and the shelter’s staff helps them establish savings, focus on problem-solving skills and chart out future housing options.
Good Neighbor also offers a transitional housing component that started July 1, 2013, and has assisted 28 families. While receiving shelter, participants are required to work a minimum of 20 hours per week and attend a post-secondary school nine hours each week, enabling them to later attain higher-paying jobs. The Transitional Housing Program is comprised of eight properties on Johnson Cove in Cartersville, as well as four additional residences.
“In growing our Transitional Housing Program, we’ve really grown the number of people we serve every day,” Mitcham said. “Five years ago, that number was maxing out at 30 people per day. Now, that number is upwards of 80 [or] 85 people per day. ... So many of our guests are ... incredibly successful during their stay and afterwards. ... From when they enter our program to when they exit, the increase in their daily wage is $7.32.
“It costs us about $250 a month to care for a family of four in that program. ... For that amount of money, we can care for a family of four — a mom and three kids. [The mom is] not only working, but also going back to school and really doing the work to radically change the future for her family.”