Photo by Flickr user Gary Knight.
The Macon-Bibb County government is critically underserving the most vulnerable members of our community: those struggling with homelessness.
An estimated 10,174 people struggle with homelessness in Georgia, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. Nearly 500 people in Macon, Ga. are believed to be homeless, with possibly more living in the rural areas of Macon-Bibb County, according to Lester Ward.
Macon-Bibb County has one emergency shelter, the Salvation Army shelter located at 1955 Broadway St. This is the only shelter that offers free housing to those that would otherwise spend the night in a park or under an overpass.
In Macon, Ga., the remaining housing aid is made up of transitional shelters, a type of housing assistance offered by the government that is aimed at getting people to stable housing.
Transitional shelters charge a percent of one’s income in exchange for a place to stay. However, many people on the streets in Macon cannot qualify since they have no income.
Martin, who did not want to give his last name, is someone who recently joined our community after coming from Atlanta to start a new life. His experience in Macon, Ga. highlights the flaws in a system that relies on charitable programs to take the place of the basic requirement of a government: keeping citizens safe and alive.
Martin went to the Salvation Army shelter for assistance, but the shelter turned him away without any help because they were at capacity.
“You’re telling me that you can’t help me at all…that there is no other place in Macon?” Martin recalled saying to the shelter worker.
Martin was told to come back the following Monday, a full week away, and perhaps a bed would be open. No other aid was available. No effort was made on the part of the Macon-Bibb government to keep a human being from sleeping on the ground without any food.
“Macon does not provide help to the homeless… no help at all,” said Martin.
Macon-Bibb County needs a government-funded shelter, one that will be able to provide emergency housing to those who are seeking to break the cycle of homelessness yet do not qualify for the transitional housing programs.
A government shelter could offer improvements over Macon’s current charity-based shelter. It could provide an increase in the physical number of beds and would have a legal obligation to provide housing and assistance to all applicants; two issues that have plagued the Salvation Army in recent years.
One shelter would be the least that the local government could do. However, this would constitute a major improvement in the services currently offered.
“I think they should be aided. Healthcare should be provided, food should be provided, shelter should be provided,” said Freshman Nursing Student Britney Sanders.
The Macon-Bibb County commissioners should care for those citizens who cannot care for themselves. The county must offer a hand to aid those facing homelessness in our community so that they may be able to rejoin and improve this community.
Homelessness care strike anyone at any time; the commissioners would certainly prefer a government shelter to the streets.