EFFINGHAM — Homelessness is a problem in Effingham County, but it’s a problem four panelists believe the Effingham area community can solve.
Representatives from CEFS, Catholic Charities, the Regional Office of Education No. 3 and the Family Life Center came together Monday at the Suzette Brumleve Memorial Effingham Public Library to discuss the homelessness that is not only statewide, but county and citywide as well.
Sister Carol Beckermann with Catholic Charities described the rural homelessness experienced locally as something that is often invisible.
“I think the very first thing that came to my mind whenever I looked at this question was invisibility. They’re invisible to us,” Beckermann said of the homeless in Effingham County. “They are hidden, so unless you know what you might be looking for, you may not see them.”
Cindy Mayer, outreach director with CEFS, said homelessness in Effingham County is not like homelessness in larger cities. She said often homeless people can be seen on the streets and gathered in certain spots throughout a metropolis. However, in places like Effingham County, homeless individuals sleep in the woods or in their cars.
Beckermann, Mayer and fellow panelists Tyrone Harvey with the Family Life Center and Angela Reeter with ROE 3 agree that affordable housing is one of the biggest barriers for the homeless in the county.
Harvey, who once operated a men’s shelter and program, said he’s found that the biggest contributing factors to homelessness are lack of employment opportunities and people and employers not giving the homeless a chance to better themselves through work or renting homes or apartments.
Reeter said the homeless students she assists have families who are often plagued by unemployment, home foreclosures, addiction, lack of transportation and lack of available resources in Effingham County. Homelessness due to domestic abuse and release from prison or jail has affected some folks Beckermann said she helps through Catholic Charities.
For Reeter, many times identifying students who are struggling with homelessness is a difficult task, much like it can be to identify the homeless in Effingham County towns.
“What we see when parents come into a rural school is there’s a pride factor that comes into this, and that goes along with it being hidden. People aren’t forthcoming with the information that we need to identify those homeless, Reeter said.
“A lot of the time, it’s viewed that if you’re living somewhere with a roof, you’re not homeless, but ... you can very well have a home and be considered homeless. If you are living with friends or living in a house that’s substandard or not adequate, those are all things that qualify you as being homeless.”
In order to aid those who are homeless, Harvey said communities need to support and encourage them to become successful by helping them learn life skills to obtain a job and to live as a productive citizen. He believes the best step in the right direction to aid the homeless is to get the city of Effingham and other government entities in the area to address the issue and put forth an effort to solve it.
Financial assistance for programs and resources such as those represented by the four panelists, volunteerism and activism are ways the community can help the homeless, the panelists said.
Mayer said since January, CEFS has received 39 assistance inquiries from Effingham County residents who are either homeless or are on the verge of homelessness. Reeter said she serves 5,595 homeless students across 13 counties, including Effingham County. Reeter said that number is 400 more than last year.
To lower those numbers, Harvey said it will take the community to make the change.
“It’s not a problem for just one person. It’s a problem for an entire community to face,” Harvey said.