The Bridge, in Gordon County helps families that are homeless or on the verge of being homeless.
“I think it’s (homelessness) something that we need to focus more attention on,” Amanda Shutz, who is on the advisory board for The Bridge, said.
According to a “point in time” survey, conducted by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and local non-profits in 2010, an estimated 66 people were homeless in Gordon County in September 2010, and 22 more people were categorized as living in unstable housing (for example: having no water or electricity or sharing a home with others due to economic hardship, according to Roberta Charbonneau of Gordon County Family Connections).
The study was conducted for a week locally in September 2010. Organizations across the county counted the amount of homeless people who entered local facilities, as well as “hot spots” where homeless are known to gather.
Charbonneau said the survey is done only once each two years, and funds have been totally cut to support it for this next year.
According to Charbonneau:
Total number served by The Bridge for the last State Fiscal Year 2012, which is from July 1, 2011 until June 31, 2012, was 163 with 52 households including 69 adults and 94 children,
As households came into The Bridge their last housing was one of the following: six households were in a place not meant for human habitation, 16 households were doubled up with family, 11 households were doubled up with friends, 13 had been in some form of housing, 4 were already housed in a hotel/motel and 2 were other.
All 163 were housed at least one night at the Motel 6. The case manager, SaBess Moore, assisted with finding transitional or permanent housing including the following - 24 households moved to subsidized housing (Calhoun Housing Authority is our main example), seven households were able to move into other apartments/housing with out subsidy, seven moved temporarily into housing with family or friends, three households moved permanently into housing with family and the remaining 11 households were miscellaneously housed including staying at the motel but paid by client or other source.
“The children ate the ones who are hurt the most in these situations,” Shutz said.
She said when families move around a lot and kids don’t have stability it really hurts them in school, because not all schools are on the same schedule the kids can’t keep up with there school lesson so they don’t build the appropriate skills kids learn in school.
The way The Bridge finds the families it helps, according to Shutz, people refer the families to the organization, but what happens most of the time in the school settings is the families come directly to The Bridge for assistance.
Some requirements have to be met before The Bridge can offer assistance to a family.
The organization requires proof that the family is by definition homeless or on the verge of being homeless through some sort of eviction notice, they have to be Gordon County residents, it has to be a family with children and The Bridge is required by the state to runs a criminal background check to make sure there is no history of violent felonies.
“We get at least one to two families a week come talk to us,” Shutz said. “If the family comes far enough in advance (with eviction or foreclosure notices) we try and prevent them from being homeless.”
Stacy Long is the executive director of the V.A.C and in charge of the finances for the Bridge.
She said The Bridge receives a grant for $30,000 dollars for a 12-month period, which they have to match 100 percent. The Bridge has to apply for this grant each year, and the funding they do not use they lose.
$12,000 dollars is set aside for the case manager’s expenses for the year, and the rest of the money goes to the emergency housing fund.
The state requires the organization to have a 30 percent success rate, but The Bridge has exceeded that and reached a 67 percent overall success rate.
Success is measured after one month based on if the family has a steady income and permanent housing they are paying for. After three and six months success is based on the family still living in permanent and stable housing they are funding.
The Bridge takes families through a three-step process, which helps families in the long run become independent.
The first step is to get the family a caseworker that works with the family on getting them all the information and the documentation they need to find employment. The second step is to help the family find employment. The third and final step is to help the family find permanent housing they can fund on their own.
Schutz said a short-term goal for the bridge is to provide emergency shelter to families, but the long-term goal is to see a family become financial independent and able to provide housing on their own.
Another goal the bridge would like to make happen is have a shelter come to Calhoun that is used just for families, according to Shutz.
“We try to allot so many slots each month for families, but we don’t have enough funds to help everyone,” Shutz said.
She said right now the Bridge works with Edith Self at the Motel 6 to provide the emergency housing for the family for up to 30 days, which cost about $900 a month.
“Edith has been super great and has a super heart,” Shutz said.
She said the Motel 6 has been very helpful, but it would be much more cost effective if they had a special shelter for families, and the organization would be able to help on average more families.
The community really supports The Bridge by raising money to help the organization meet the numbers required.
Shutz said the United Way and other local groups like the Optimist Club and Meadowdale’s motorcycle rides have help The Bridge raise the money needed to support these families transitioning from being homeless to being self sustainable.