Face of homelessness
• Median age 42 with a range of 17 to 68 years of age
• 63% male and 37% female
• 61% identified as white, 28% black, 3% Hispanic or Latino, 3% multiracial
• 8% were veterans
• 6% had children in the homeless household
Source: 2017 Georgia Housing Status Survey
In the course of a month, Ray Rochell has gone from living with a roof over his head to sleeping on a dirty mattress tucked under a trailer near a tire shop on Dorsey and Davis streets in Gainesville.
The two-bedroom house on Bank Street where Rochell was splitting $550 rent with a buddy was recently demolished by the city of Gainesville after the property was deemed unsafe by Code Enforcement officials.
Jose Casellas and other nearby workers who have seen the 56-year-old Rochell sleeping under the trailer have warned the man they have seen large snakes near the woods where he keeps his mattress. Rochell refuses to heed the warnings.
“He’s been there almost a month,” Casellas said.
A recently released snapshot compiled by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs indicates homelessness remains high in Hall County.
The survey taken in January showed Hall County with 62 sheltered homeless persons and 45 unsheltered homeless persons. The combined sheltered and unsheltered homeless count of 107 is the most by far of any of the 12 Northeast Georgia counties surveyed.
Forsyth County was a distant second with a sheltered and unsheltered homeless count of 13.
The homeless count is put together every other year by the state Department of Community Affairs. The previous report in 2015 estimated there were almost 14,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons throughout the state.
In Hall County, the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population was estimated to be more than 50 and less than 100.
Rochell was not homeless when the survey was taken in January. From underneath the trailer where he sleeps, Rochell walks to Good News at Noon at 979 Davis St., an outreach ministry that introduces Gospel teachings while also offering meals twice a day for anyone who shows up to the dining room, The ministry also has emergency shelter for up to 20 men.
Beth Oropeza, who helps her husband Alejandro run Good News at Noon, said that from what she can tell, homelessness does not take a summer break in Hall County.
“We are not slowing down,” Oropeza said. “If anything, we’re seeing more people coming here.”
In his 31 years on Gainesville City Council, George Wangemann said he’s seen the homeless population grow.
Wangemann said he’s been out to the woods and underneath a bridge to minister to the homeless with missionaries from the local Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints he attends.
“I’ve seen the homeless situation grow in Gainesville, and it doesn’t do my heart good to see that happen,” Wangemann said. “The homeless has almost always been with us. You remember Jesus said the poor will always be with us, and he encouraged his followers to take care of those. After all, they are God’s children, too.”