Updated Tue, Nov 5, 2013 9:56 am
Homelessness is growing to epidemic proportions throughout the country, and has been more prevalent in Hocking County within the past few years, according to the Hocking Hills Inspire Shelter, which is raising funds to create a homeless shelter.
According to a recent Ohio Homeless Report, there are more than 13,000 vagrant people in Ohio. There are as many as 3.5 million Americans who are homeless each year. Of these, more than one million are children, and on any given night, more than 300,000 children are homeless.
In 2011, there were 5,218 Ohio families with children who were displaced, the highest level of family homelessness since statewide reporting began. More than 11,000 Ohioans were in shelters or transitional housing in 2011.
As of the last homeless count in January, there were at least 81 displaced people in Hocking County, many with children. While that figure may not seem high compared to larger cities, it’s a dramatic increase from 28 people reported in a previous annual homeless count.
So often, many take advantage of lives filled with fancy vehicles, nice homes, good-paying jobs and nice clothing that they forget there are people out there who are less fortunate and need help. Many scavenge Dumpsters looking for food and cardboard to help keep them warm at night.
While people don’t realize the true state of the economy, diminished federal and state resources have placed a huge burden on local food banks like the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank as well as food pantries like Smith Chapel Food and Clothing Mission, which is reportedly supplying food to more than 200 families each week.
Although there’s a lot of speculation, there’s not one single cause that leads to homelessness. There are many weighing factors, including loss of employment, high housing or rental costs, natural disasters and domestic violence, just to name a few.
Although Hocking County does not have a homeless shelter, members and volunteers of Hocking Hills Inspire Shelter are working to help the displaced find temporary housing and be provided food, clothing and other services to many within the county. HHIS is a multi-purpose organization and helps not only the homeless, but also veterans, domestic violence victims and others within the community.
HHIS is an ever-growing organization that has recognized the need to provide the homeless in Hocking County with an opportunity for a better way of life. Volunteers receive calls from individuals and families looking for help everyday.
As time goes by, more and more people and government agencies are stepping up to aid in the endeavor of closing the gap of homelessness in Hocking County.
The HHIS office, located at 42 E. Main St., has continued to help many displaced people, as well as domestic violence victims and others who need help finding services, such as shelter, food, clothing, etc.
During the first year, office volunteers have helped at least 35 individuals and families find temporary housing. Volunteers also offer food to those who come in off the streets and are hungry. Although there is no room in the downtown office to house homeless, they do offer services for immediate emergency needs.
“We keep a small amount of food here in the office,” said HHIS volunteer Liska Kuhn. “We have a microwave so we can heat up things like a can of soup or prepackaged mac n’ cheese — you know microwavable foods.”
One of the most valuable assets for HHIS has been the relationship with local churches.
“The churches have been wonderful,” said HHIS volunteer Loretta Helber. “We can’t thank them enough.”
The volunteers also help people locate services that may apply to them through various agencies in the county. And although each agency tries to help all who are homeless or in need of assistance, if a person has a felony or is a sex-offender, they are turned away.
“We are trying to get this changed,” said Kuhn. “But right now, all we can offer is something to eat, but we cannot help them find temporary lodging.”
Several events are coming up to help make people aware of the plaguing problem that appears to be growing by leaps and bounds.
November is National Homeless Awareness Month, and to kick off the month, HHIS offers a presentation by the “man with the golden voice,” Ted Williams, who will be speaking at the Church of the Nazarene at 7 p.m., Nov. 16.
Williams was discovered homeless on the streets of Columbus in January 2011 by Logan native Doral Chenoweth III, who now works as a photographer for The Columbus Dispatch.
Since that time, Williams has appeared on the Dr. Phil television show and countless other shows and news programs and newspapers, telling his own story about how he has overcome the stigma of being homeless.
His presentation will enlighten everyone about the realities of homelessness and how he has gone from depression, addiction, loneliness, heartbreak, alcoholism, drug use, to one of God, hope, love and change.
A meet and greet will be held after Williams’ presentation and HHIS officers, board members and general members also will be on hand to answer questions about the homelessness situation here in Hocking County.
There is no charge for the event, but donations are appreciated. HHIS is a 100 percent volunteer organization.
HHIS also is in need of winter coats, hats, gloves and warm clothing to help those less fortunate survive through the cold temperatures that are approaching. Clothing bins have been placed at Saving Hardware Do It Best Rental Center, 51 S. Mulberry St., and Psalm 121 Discounts Books & Gifts LLC, located at 110 E. Main St. All donations are tax deductible.
Clean sleeping bags in good condition also are needed to help those brave the inclement weather who have no source of lodging. Sleeping bags can be dropped off at the HHIS office, located at 42 E. Main St.
HHIS members meet the first Saturday of each month at 9:30 a.m. at the Olde Dutch Restaurant. For more information about HHIS, contact 740-274-5117.