Once homeless and addicted to methamphetamine, the Cartersville resident serves as an inspiration to those facing hard times. Looking back over the past three decades, Mauldin — now employed, renting an apartment and drug free — is overjoyed at how far he has come and thankful to those who have helped him succeed.
“It feels really good to be able to be out on my own, to pay my own bills, stand on my own two feet,” Mauldin said. “I budget my money real well ... and I keep my bills paid and I keep money in my pocket and I keep food [on hand]. I do good. I really do. ... I’d been in addiction for a lot of years, for like over 30 years, and for the first 10 of those years, you don’t even realize that you’re addicted.
“You think that you’re maintaining because you work and you have a family and you have a home or you own your own businesses, like I did. ... I prayed about it and God spoke to me in my heart and ... said, ‘You take that drug court and you go to that homeless shelter,’” he said, referring to the Cherokee Circuit Drug Court and Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter. “‘You get you a bicycle and you find you a job and you make it work.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I really did.”
Previously incarcerated and needing a place to live, Mauldin was referred to the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter from Cherokee Circuit Drug Court, an intensive out-patient drug intervention program, which spans a minimum of 18 months.
Arriving on Aug. 10, 2012, he resided at the shelter for 11 weeks. Referring to the Good Neighbor’s staff as family, Mauldin still routinely visits the shelter and tries to inspire current guests. He also leads a Narcotics Anonymous group at Good Neighbor on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., which is open to the public.
“A lot of times [drug court will] recommend the shelter so [participants] can just be away from their families and where they were [and other] things that [were not] working for them,” Mauldin said. “It kind of helps them be in an atmosphere to where they have to stand on their own two feet. The shelter provided everything that you need as far as hygiene and food, and a comfortable atmosphere to be in. And [there are] lot of positive people here at the shelter, a lot of positive staff that pushes you in the right direction.
“... It’s hard to realize that I’m 53, and I look back and think, ‘Wow, all those years in addiction, it’s just wasted time.’ ... I’m thankful for drug court program,” he said, referring to the offering, which mandates participants follow various requirements, such as staying clean and sober, attending court weekly, submitting to random and required drug testing and job searching. “It’s been a real blessing. It’s been a great opportunity to be in drug court. And coming to this shelter, the staff at this shelter, they’ve changed my life. They have helped me change my life. They really have.”
For Jessica Mitcham, executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, Mauldin is a prime example of those who are assisted by the Cartersville nonprofit.
Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor has served more than 5,200 people. While they are housed in the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001, 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. Along with a computer lab, the Good Neighbor also features a transitional housing component to its organization. Currently three families are taking part in the housing program for a maximum of two years.
“The largest need is for families,” Mitcham said. “... Generally we can serve a whole lot of the single men and women that call. But we get called daily by more and more families, moms with children, that have nowhere to go — way more than we can possibly serve. ... A good number of our population we serve are recovering addicts. Probably even larger than that, probably the single hardest struggle universally for the population we serve is that probably two-thirds of our guests have a criminal background.
“And while we probably don’t hear from too many people that just got laid off [or] their company went out of business, what we do hear is that individuals in our community who have a record have an extremely hard time finding employment because there still are not enough jobs. So, when positions are available, so many employers are quick to impose a no-felony-conviction expectation with new employees. So we have guests who have criminal records who have been looking for a long time for employment and unable to find anything.”
Presently observing National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which ends Nov. 24, Good Neighbor supporters are highlighting the Cartersville nonprofit and the issue of homelessness in Bartow County.
“Certainly Good Neighbor would want the community to always be aware that there are homeless individuals in our community,” Mitcham said. “Just because we live in a community where you don’t see people sleeping under bridges or out on benches — we are spoiled in that we don’t see the problem in front of us all that often, but — that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
“This year, we’re going to serve about 650 individuals that are homeless in our community. If you talk to city and county school homeless liaisons, by the end of this year, they’re probably all total going to identify about 600 school children in the school systems that are known to be homeless. So we know this is a problem in our community. Thankfully there are some good resources. That doesn’t work for everybody though. There are still those who are living unsheltered, homeless in our community.”
To generate funds and awareness for the shelter, Good Neighbor supporters are conducting several bucket drives in downtown Cartersville this week. The nonprofit also is serving as the beneficiary of the WBHF radiothon on Thursday morning. With the third annual radiothon being broadcast live from the shelter, 110 Porter St., the public is encouraged to visit the Good Neighbor, ask questions about the organization and tour its facility.
During the radiothon from 7 to 10 a.m., listeners will be able to make donations by calling 770-386-1450. Along with garnering pledges, the radiothon also will share the stories of former and current Good Neighbor guests.
“We are always just trying to get the word out about Good Neighbor, so that people know we exist. Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, almost all of our funding is local in nature,” Mitcham said, adding about 98 percent of the nonprofit’s annual $380,000 budget is raised locally. “It’s individuals and churches and businesses, civic organizations and foundations that give. So we are enormously thankful that the shelter can even be here and that’s only because local people in this community know about it and care for it and give to it.
“So consistently getting the word out so that more and more people are aware that we’re here. Also constantly looking for opportunities to share the good news about what happens for our guests. All of our guests have to be drug and alcohol free. They have to be ready to start looking for employment. An enormous number of our guests this year will find jobs like Ronnie did, go back to work, save money, get a new place. We have a guest moving out this Friday into a new apartment and he will be the third guest in 10 days that is moving into a new apartment.”
For more information about the Good Neighbor, call the shelter at 770-607-0610 or visit www.goodneighborshelter.org.