Hall County online homeless resource directory
To learn more about how you can support local homeless assistance programs, go to http://ga-hallcounty.civicplus.com/881/Homeless-Assistance.
Note: The site is still under construction and should be complete before the end of the month.
As spring gives way to summer, the homeless camp beneath the Queen City Bridge in Gainesville becomes more crowded, a desolate place to rest for some and a trashed playpen for others along the so-called “tramp trail.”
The new faces stand out among the old in the seasonal turnover.
The young woman who might otherwise be a student if not caught on the lure of street drugs.
The Marine Corps veteran whose failed heart, labored breaths and swollen legs recently sent him to the intensive care unit for the second time in nearly as many weeks.
His family is missing. Wife gone. Brother’s bond broken. No money. No visitors in the hospital.
Then came the young, but grizzled, dude with his own car docked at the camp for who-knows-how-long.
“He just showed up last night,” Hines said. “It’s like that this time of year.”
Hines should know. He has something akin to seniority here.
Now in his early 60s, Hines has lived under the bridge longer than anyone can remember, including himself.
Things twisted and turned after his mother died, the pain fresh in his watering, blinking eyes whenever he speaks of her. Alcohol abuse began as a disguise for this loss. Then it became an escape from the voices in his head that had been echoing all his life but now, at times, expand into a wall of sound.
“Some days are worse than others,” Hines said, shaking his head at the thought.
He’ll often just lie down in his tent, wishing the day away, and close his eyes until the noise recedes from his mind.
When it does, Hines is the first to help clean up around the camp. He’s the first to greet strangers and the first to make sure everyone gets a bite of the apple, so to speak.
He was there when an old face became new again.
Demetric moved back to the Gainesville camp recently after a brief stint in Florida.
He said he hoped to reunite with his children.
The increased foot traffic in the camp lately has turned the attention of some longtime residents to the thought of a better life.
New York, a middle-aged man who knows just about every hidden homeless camp in Gainesville, began work at a local grocery last week. He said he hopes to pool his earnings with a homeless woman to put a roof over their head that’s not an overpass.
T-Bone just got a new job, too. He said he hopes work at a local manufacturing plant will allow him to move on from the camp for good and support a baby on the way.
The camp can seem like a forgotten place when the rains come, or the sun beats down or winter arrives.
But assistance continues to come for those willing to accept it.
There are an estimated 200 or more homeless individuals in and around Gainesville, according to local officials and nonprofit agencies, a stark figure for a community of its size.
And according to the state Department of Community Affairs, Hall is just one of 10 counties in the state to experience a more than 50 percent increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people between 2013 and 2015.
A survey and count of homeless veterans across Georgia was conducted in March, the first of its kind, and the results will help drive new funding and program opportunities.
Veterans account for a solid 10 percent of all homeless individuals in Georgia, according to figures from the state DCA’s 152-county estimate conducted last year, which is up from 7 percent in 2013.
Meanwhile, Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, said an online comprehensive resource directory is nearly complete.
The site will include a catalogue of missions and shelters that provide beds for the homeless and will eventually be updated weekly to reflect the number of beds open and available at a given time.
Additional resource information will include a list of day centers, food pantries, rental and financial assistance programs, clothing, legal advice, medical and mental health resources and ways to contribute to reducing local homelessness.
Jerry Deyton, pastor of The Way ministry in Gainesville, which serves the homeless in the city’s rugged industrial area, said he plans to attend a Hall County budget hearing Monday to call attention to his desire to see local government funding for homeless assistance programs.
And then there's Paula Williams, who works for Strong Hands of Healing, a local faith-based massage practice dedicated to serving others through the healing arts of massage therapy.
“I had sensed the call of God to go under the bridge several weeks ago,” Williams said. “I made my first visit alone. God had spoke to me and told me that a baby would be born under the bridge.”
Williams admits she felt “silly” about the idea until she met a woman at the camp who is indeed several months pregnant.
“These are people,” Williams said. “They are not animals like I’ve been told. Life hurts sometimes. It is hard to get past the hurt … No one under the bridge has said to me that they don’t want any hope of a better day.”
Members of the Sabbath Chapel “heard of my calling and joined me by donating an initial budget for the needs there,” Williams said.
Through fellowship, prayer and sharing of resources, Williams said she is intent on visiting the homeless camp every Sunday morning for the foreseeable future to raise spirits.
“Could it be that this bridge becomes a great lighthouse instead of a place of doom and gloom?” she asked before providing an answer. “I believe it will be.”