As Georgia’s economy struggles to rebound the number of homeless people is going up. For many it’s their first time without a roof.
The continued rise has forced homeless advocates in Macon to start working together.
Volunteer Denise Saturna dishes out grits, breakfast casserole, and homemade cinnamon rolls at Central City Park in Macon. She greets all 70 people in line like old friends because she’s been doing this for two years
“I know just about everybody that’s out here by name. I will tell you that most of them, there’s been a catalyst in their life . . . Hey There! . . . that’s started this process.”
That process includes struggles with addiction, mental illness, and sometimes just losing a job. That’s what happened to 47-year old truck driver Michael Eric Hutto who’s been living in an abandoned bus in an open field.
“I saw it coming, you know, prior to September 1st. I had time to prepare like buy a tent and stuff like that, and then I lived in it for about four months, and then I eventually moved out into one of the city buses.”
The former truck driver has been coming to the Sunday night picnics since October. Tonight, along with his meal, he’s given information on employment, housing assistance and counseling.
In the last year the number of homeless people in Macon has risen
50-percent and many of the organizations that help the homeless have been working independently. Now the shelters, soup kitchens and employment specialists are banding together to coordinate services.
The new approach can even help the chronically homeless says Denise Saturna.
“We have a lady right now that we were able to get into a short term detox, and she just transferred to a long term recovery program in another city. We could not have done that had we not taken the time to get to know her out here on the street level. She’s been homeless for probably almost ten years.”
But according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the fastest growth has been among women, children and veterans. Phil Banzee with the coalition comments.
“We have many situations currently where people, because of the economic climate, have lost their jobs, have lost their houses, and then become homeless and are forced into that situation.”
He says one in four Maconites already live below the poverty line and are one paycheck away from homelessness.
Some of the homeless have jobs but can’t afford housing. Ronnie Odom with the Macon Coalition to End Homelessness says for many putting down a deposit on an apartment and paying utilities is an insurmountable.
“Right now it’s the working poor that we’ve seen the increase because there are just . . . are not enough resources that can help people to get back on their feet quickly.”
Someone who might need help quickly is a family with a mother, father and three small children. This was their first time at the picnic, and they did not want to be interviewed, but Saturna is determined to help. She stands holding her plate and sits down.
“To us, the meal is incidental. It’s about getting to know people and making them feel important.”
Saturna will return this Sunday evening and every one following to try to help as many people as she can.