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Group discusses better ways to help homeless
Organizations ponder possible coalition to share resources
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Several Hall County groups that help homeless people are joining forces to tackle the problem and prevent duplication.

The North Georgia Community Foundation held a meeting Friday for more than 20 people who are involved with homelessness in various ways. The group identified gaps in homeless services and discussed the possibility of establishing a Hall County Homeless Coalition to share resources.

"There are a lot of organizations and individuals who have a strong interest and religious convictions behind their desires to help, and some are doing it from scratch," said Phillippa Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center who is heading up the coalition. "There is no reason to reinvent the wheel."

The group will begin meeting regularly to discuss training, funding and statewide resources that could help fill Gainesville's gaps.

"These services aren't in competition. There are many groups around the state and nation available to help," Moss said.

"It would be a tragedy to do this from scratch when other programs have learned from trial and error and are designed to be very effective and efficient."

The group agreed that future meetings should address a communitywide vision for homeless services, increase communication among providers and find a way to provide service without enabling homelessness.

"They talked about some of the obvious services that appear to be missing, such as rehabilitation services, a crisis center, some transitional housing and family housing," Moss said. "They also addressed transportation needs for poverty pockets throughout the area. People are living in squalor and can't access health care."

Jason Ladd, who works with Under the Bridge Ministries, thought the unified meeting was "long overdue."

"We've been working with different groups and have been trying to do something like this the last six months, and sometimes it just takes the right people to get it together," he said. "This is wonderful. I think they're hitting it right on to get the missions and different people together to make this a reality."

Several group members emphasized the importance of educating the community about the issue of homelessness.

"I knew it was much bigger than people could have imagined, which is about the same as when the food bank first began," said Kay Blackstock, executive director for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

"There's an education and awareness component about how large the need is and what we're facing."

The Georgia Mountain Food Bank works with several homeless shelters as part of its food bank network, and a Hall County directory could help streamline future efforts, she said.

"That way you really get things done. If you have so many people with their hearts in the right place and everyone trying to address the need, you can help each other do more," Blackstock said. "I've seen remarkable things happen when we bring community leaders together to address the problems of hunger, so with this we could really see amazing things happen."