Reba Terry, executive director of The Caring Place, said the events leading to a person being homeless are not always strictly economical. Mental illness, substance abuse and fleeing from physical abuse are some of the other reasons, she said.
These factors are seen by area nonprofits, such as The Caring Place, as they seek to meet those struggling to secure basic needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
The Caring Place defines a person as homeless if he or she doesn’t have an address.
Terry said she thinks homelessness is an increasing concern for many in this area.
“We’ve seen people who have had pristine histories but recently they have just kind of fallen upon hard times,” Terry said. “Most of us live closer to the edge than we would like to admit. Most of us are a paycheck or two away,” from the financial troubles that can lead to homelessness, she added.
In November (the most recent numbers available), clients at The Caring Place represented 1,179 different households. These households represent 2,016 adults and 1,411 children. Of these, 55 households were listed as homeless, representing 57 adults and nine children.
The most up-to-date numbers available during an interview with Terry showed The Caring Place had served 208 different homeless households in 2012. These households were comprised of 225 adults and 48 children. This is compared to 188 unduplicated households in 2011.
Terry said the organization gives homeless clients the option to choose to receive ready-to-eat food or a regular bag of groceries. She said some homeless individuals have a place to cook food while others do not.
When blankets or sleeping bags are donated, Terry said they are offered to homeless clients. Hats and coats are also offered when available. Terry said there is not a consistent supply of these items.
Several groups in recent years have put together personal care kits for the organization to distribute to those who are homeless.
“I think it’s one of those issues that we can avoid if we want to. We don’t have to look at. We don’t have to see it. Most of us can leave our subdivisions and go to work or go to school or go to church, shop, whatever, and go home and never see it, never see the disadvantaged in our community,” Terry said. “Sometimes if we don’t see it, we don’t have to respond.”
Terry said there is also an element of fear when addressing the problem of homelessness.
“I think there is fear. I think there is fear that if we make provision for the homeless that they will come” [to the area in larger numbers] Terry said.
While the organization provides food and sometimes clothing, Terry said there is a need in the community for transitional housing for the homeless.
She said it is often difficult for those who are homeless to get a place to live without some kind of transitional housing. She gave the example of a homeless person who gets a job, but will have to have a couple of paychecks before being able to make a deposit for an apartment.
Donations whenever given are greatly appreciated by The Caring Place and other nonprofits like it, yet there is often a disconnect between society’s concept of the needs in its community and actual needs.
Many have the misconception that need increases around the holidays. Terry said need exists all year long, not just around the holiday season. However, people seem more aware of needs in their community around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It’s daily need. It’s just that we in the general public are more aware during the holidays. It’s our conscience, if we think, ‘We’ve got all this for ourselves and our kids and our grandkids, and there are people who don’t have.” ... So we do our good deed and then we’re done until next Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Terry said.
Terry said numbers do fluctuate some but remain pretty steady. An increase in clients is seen around the start of the school year as families try to save money for needed school supplies.
Families can visit twice a month while individuals can visit once a month. However, the average number of repeat visits per year is less than five.
“I take a lot of comfort in that,” Terry said.
Clients often say they only visit if they really need to.
“By and large, people don’t come if they don’t have to,” Terry said.
Terry said it is a comforting thought to know that clients are not just trying to take advantage of the ministry.
The Caring Place also provides donated clothing to clients. In November, 86 percent were able to find clothes they could use. Terry said there is always a need for men’s clothing.