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How Gainesville ministries are uniting to support the homeless
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Art Gallegos, co-founder of Latinos Conservative Organization, and his young daughter help pack boxes of shoes donated to Bridge the City for delivery to homeless men at Set Free Ministries in Gainesville on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

Several ministries and nonprofits have long worked to address the short- and long-term needs of the homeless in Gainesville and Hall County.

But the needs persist.

“I know what God says, as a people, as a town, as a state, if we continue this walk of casting away the poor and needy …” said Aaron Clemons, pastor at Set Free Ministry in Gainesville for the last 11 years.

He trailed off with choked emotion before offering an allegorical contemplation of the misfortune that befalls people who turn from one another.

In 2015, the state counted about 50 homeless individuals in Hall County. In 2017, it counted 123.

Both figures fall short of likely totals, which local advocates range at somewhere between 200 and 400 at any given time.

Clemons alone is currently housing 46 men at Set Free, and can support up to 80 at a time.

In recent years, more groups have emerged to contribute, such as The Way (a day center mission in midtown Gainesville) and Bridge the City (of Gainesville). And a new men’s shelter, as well as a separate women and children’s shelter, are in development.

Along the way, collaboration amongst these groups has become a more mission critical endeavor.

“If we adopt the mindset that we are all in this together, the city wins,” said Andrew Bearden.

Bearden founded Bridge the City in October 2015. He utilizes space in a warehouse downtown to collect donations for the homeless.

On Thursday morning, Bearden was joined at the warehouse by volunteers to sort through recent gifts, from hygiene products to jackets and blankets, to provide the homeless at Set Free.

“Bring it all and we’ll sort out,” Bearden said.

Shoes, though, were the biggest single item Bearden had collected: some nice dress shoes, proper for a job interview, perhaps; and military combat boots, perfect for the cold, wet weather that had moved in and a style befitting homeless veterans in the community.

“It’s their means of transportation,” Bearden said, adding that he had witnessed some homeless individuals stuff cardboard into their shoes to cover holes in the soles.

Building relationships with ministries like Set Free, Bearden said, and ensuring resources “get used and not mistreated” is how he builds trust with his own donors and partners.

It’s what brought Art Gallegos along.

“It’s something we’re all passionate about,” said Gallegos, co-founder of Latinos Conservative Organization based in Gainesville. “This is something we can all give back to and be a part of.”

As Gallegos and others sorted and separated shoes by size and style, placed them in boxes for delivery, he reflected on how local groups can unite to serve the homeless.  

The son of a preacher and immigrant, Gallegos said he’s driven by a sense of spirit and community.

“We all live together,” he added. “We have to learn to work together.”

For Bearden, partnerships are sign of strength in faith.

“And the power in collaboration,” he said.

For Clemons, partnerships are sign that faith in action has a lot of mileage to it.

“It means a great deal to these (homeless) guys who have given up hope and think no one loves them,” Clemons said. “It touches their heart and, therefore, mine. And it doesn’t exist without (these) Christian brothers and sisters.” 

Upcoming homeless count 

Georgia will hold a statewide count of homeless individuals between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3. To learn more about assisting with the count in Hall, Habersham or White Counties, email Michael Fisher, housing and program planner for Ninth District Opportunity, at michael.fisher@ndocsbg.org

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Pictured left to right, Andrew Bearden, founder of Bridge the City; Aaron Clemons, pastor at Set Free Ministry; and Art Gallegos, co-founder of Latinos Conservative Organization stand together during an event to help pack poxes of shoes donated to Bridge the City for delivery to homeless men at Set Free Ministries in Gainesville on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.
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