I distinctly remember the day over 20 years ago. A woman with her young son showed up at my office. Her situation involved multiple layers of family dysfunction, but they were homeless. The child was about six years old and so beautiful, with dark curly hair and the bluest eyes.
A minute before they arrived, I had just replenished my candy dish with M&M’s. I went to work trying to find temporary housing for this family. I called everyone I could think of and quickly learned Pickens County had minimal services for sheltering homeless people. It was probably one of the most frustrating days of my professional life.
They left, still homeless, and I fumed, annoyed beyond words. I needed chocolate. When I reached over to grab a handful of candy, the bowl was empty. Sometime during my frantic phone calling, they had emptied my candy bowl. My bet was that they were also hungry but it was too late to help them. They were gone.
I vowed that as long as I had a breath in my body, I would tackle this issue head on. After all, I worked for United Way, right?
Without going into the details of endless frustration and dead ends, it took a United Way funded countywide hunger study to shine a light on people living in poverty, who are hungry and yes, even homeless, right here in Pickens County.
The day arrived to publicly announce the results of the study. Over one hundred people showed up at Easley First Baptist Church. It would be an understatement to say they were shocked. They “organized” themselves big time. It was during one of their earliest meetings that the issue of homelessness rose to the top of the list.
“Someone needs to step up!” they cried.
And that is how United Way of Pickens County became one of the first in the nation to lead a faith based initiative called Family Promise of Pickens County. Family Promise is a proven national interfaith hospitality network where homeless families with children are housed in local churches. Since its inception in August 2014, they have hosted 14 families consisting of 48 people, mostly women with children ranging from infants to seniors in high school.
It’s a first step in addressing homelessness. You have to start somewhere.
Three years ago, a group of volunteers, shocked at the number of homeless and impoverished school aged children at a local elementary school, asked me to research the number of homeless in Pickens County. I learned that there were no accurate homeless numbers because Pickens County didn’t participate in the required Department of Housing and Urban Developments, Point In Time Count.
This year, on January 27, 2016, communities across the United States will count their homeless. Pickens County will be right there with them because United Way has stepped up to take the lead.
This is no easy task. It takes training to be able to spot our county’s homeless people.
I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to be trained, because now I see homeless people everywhere — in campers behind people’s houses, in tents in the woods, living in their cars, in tool sheds and barns.
They say ignorance is bliss but it’s not. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t recognize that there is a problem. Whether we like it or not, homelessness is serious.
Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 864-850-7094, extension 101.