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Groups ready to reach out to homeless in midst of Irma
09122017 HOMELESS
Diane Smith, 53, found some comfort from Monday's stormy weather to enjoy a hot meal at the Good News at Noon shelter in Gainesville. Smith told The Times she's homeless. - photo by Carlos Galarza

Rain and wind from Tropical Storm Irma on Monday did not deter the regular crowd of men and women down on their luck from showing up for lunch at Good News at Noon ministry headquarters.

Diane Smith, a 53-year-old homeless woman, arrived after lunch had been served, but volunteers would not allow her leave on an empty stomach. They served Smith a plate of fried chicken with a side of vegetables and a cheeseburger to boot.

“I’m living in a tent with my husband behind a Hispanic church,” Smith told The Times. “Other homeless people are living there.”

With weather forecasters warning of tropical storm conditions late into the night, Good News at Noon and other organizations that provide emergency aid and shelter to the homeless had plans in place to deal with emergency needs.

Good News at Noon Director Alejandro Oropeza said that although the program is designed for homeless men, there’s space available to take in women too in a pinch should the need arise.

“It would be temporary to meet an emergency,” Oropeza said.

Beth Oropeza, who helps run the Good News at Noon program with her husband, said volunteers would be at the facility to serve dinner.

“If anyone who comes to dinner tells us they need a dry space to spend the night, we won’t turn anyone away,” she said.

Lt. Arnaldo Pena, corps officer with The Salvation Army in Gainesville, is working with the Red Cross to help anyone who stays at the shelter set up at First Baptist Church.

“We are paying close attention to the storm and ready to serve our community without discrimination in any way,” Pena told The Times.

Pena said The Salvation Army also has its own shelter open for anyone that at some point may become homeless. He said the organization also would be ready to distribute food in Gainesville if needed, as it has done in Savannah, where it set up a mobile canteen to serve first responders and anyone who evacuated from Florida, where Irma caused heavy damage over the weekend.

Brandee Thomas, executive director of My Sister’s Place — a provider of shelter and frontline assistance to single women and mothers with children — said the organization has not seen an increase in calls because of the inclement weather.

“I don’t know that Irma has had a significant impact locally for homeless women and children,” Thomas said. “That is truly a blessing because we currently have a waiting list for services.”

Thomas said My Sister’s Place serves Hall and other nearby counties, as well as metro Atlanta.

“The vast majority of the individuals on our waiting list are housed, albeit very temporarily, with friends, family members or in hotels,” Thomas said.

A homeless count conducted in January by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs estimated there are between 51 and 99 homeless individuals in Hall County.

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