FEATURE – Waking up before 4 a.m. wasn’t ideal, but what Brandi Newman wanted to do that day was important to her. It was pouring rain and unusually cold for St. George so she put on extra layers and good shoes. She drove to the Volunteer Center of Washington County at 198 N. 100 E., somewhere she had never been before, was teamed up with two other people and was assigned to walk the river across from the Summit Athletic Club searching for the homeless.
They brought bright orange bags of food and hats and scarves, knitted with yarn from someone in the community. They walked from 4-6:30 a.m. “It was really muddy and our shoes were caked with mud and it was really hard to walk,” Newman said.
After their tromping in the rain and searching across the river, underpasses and everywhere they could think of, they found no one. Undiscouraged, Newman woke up at 4 a.m. the next day to do the same thing.
This time all Newman wanted was to find one person. She waited outside the volunteer center for her team to arrive and then they left on foot, into downtown St. George.
Searching alleyways, dumpsters, buildings and corners for anyone who may need shelter. She rubbed her hands together in the cold and discussed where you might go if you were homeless. The team started to think about what it would be like to be homeless, cold, hungry and scared. As the team walked, their problems seemed much lighter than they had the previous day. Surprisingly happy to be walking around in the dark and cold, they searched intently, their only motive being to find just one person to help.
The woman was sitting alone at the Smith’s deli, drinking coffee; she had been there for six hours, she said.
When Newman saw her, she was excited to finally find someone she could help, but she deferred to another member of the team who approached the woman.
“Hi. We’ve been out looking for members of the community we could help. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?” Newman’s team member said.
“I don’t have time for that. I don’t have nothing to say to nobody,” the woman said. She had only a couple bags with her, a white sweatshirt stained with coffee and her hair and face weathered.
“Please, if you don’t mind. We are just here to help. It will just take a minute and we brought some food and hats we can give you,” the team member said.
The woman saw that they were sincere and started pulling down chairs.
“Well, sit down. Have some coffee,” the woman said. Then she told what she could of her story.
She was only on foot. She had no car, no address, no email, no phone. A volunteer had found her the night before and helped her get into the shelter at Dixie Care and Share in St. George, but she left in the middle of the night.
“I couldn’t sleep and I don’t want to wait around for hours,” the woman said. So she walked to Smith’s where she sat, drinking coffee.
The volunteers asked their questions, realizing that she had already taken the survey they were taking but still intent on brightening her day and encouraging her to come back to the shelter so she could receive help.
It was apparent that there were some mental health issues that have stopped the woman from finding a stable place to live. She needed help, but lacked the capacity to seek it for herself.
During the Point-in-Time project in Washington County, running from Jan. 30-Feb. 1, there were 108 volunteers that contributed, some for several nights in a row. These volunteers helped locate 180 homeless in Washington County. Of those homeless, 76 were served breakfast at Grace Episcopal Church in St. George, over 200 wallets with $5 bills were distributed and over 2,200 pounds of food was given out. Approximately 100 surveys were taken, asking homeless individuals about their circumstances, what has brought them to their current situation and how they can best be assimilated back into stable housing.
Two weeks since the Point-in-Time project, 11 have been put into stable housing. Additionally, there have been four homeless that have ordered and received birth certificates so they are now able to become employed, collect disability, rent an apartment or receive their Social Security. Two of the homeless have been moved from St. George to a place where they can better take care of themselves. One of them is now a housekeeper in Ticaboo in Garfield County.
A large group of 91 people were found in one area, spanning 14 families, huddled together without shelter. They did not have enough food or clothing. Carol Hollowell, director of the Volunteer Center of Washington County said she immediately went to Facebook to ask for clothing and food and the community responded with the items needed.
“It was pretty amazing,” Hollowell said. “How amazing our community is when we throw something out on Facebook, I need more people, I need more clothes and they range in these 2 months to 45 in age and we got it. So that was a big nugget when looking at how many we were able to help, and what is the impact to those families.”
Hollowell and the volunteers are continually working with those that they found and taking the information from the survey to help eradicate homelessness and find what is stopping those people from finding stable housing. The work continues.
Ed. note: The anecdotes given in this story include the personal participation of the reporter as Newman’s team member volunteer. Photography was discouraged during the Point-in-Time project.
- Volunteer Center of Washington County | 198 North 100 East in St. George | Telephone 435-674-5757 | Facebook page | Volunteers invited to visit, sign up
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