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Temporary Homeless Shelter Warms Hearts During Freeze

Several hearts and bodies were warmed during the recent freeze, as the City of Vidalia opened a temporary homeless shelter to ensure those without shelter would be safe during the cold spell.

“The increase in homeless populations is an issue that all communities are facing across the country. It truly is one of the most intricate and difficult situations for which a city and community can develop and institute longterm solutions. In this particular case, with the impending weather and extreme cold, there was no time to wade through all of those intricacies; this was about saving lives,” Mayor Doug Roper explained.

Roper said that at the beginning of Christmas week, officials began monitoring the expected weather. When they realized the severity and longevity of the cold weather, they immediately began making arrangements to open a temporary place for the homeless population to seek shelter.

The biggest challenge for the cre- continued from page

ation of the shelter was to find an available location and individuals to supervise the facility. “I checked with the City of Lyons to see if they were doing something similar because I knew that would impact their ability to help us cover the Darby Gym location (on Adams Street in Vidalia.) Once Chief (James) Jermon, Chief (Wesley) Walker and Sheriff (Alvie) Kight were all able to communicate and work out the coverage, we knew we could move forward and offer Darby Gym as a temporary location for relief from the elements,” Roper shared.

Notification of this shelter flooded social media, and various signs were placed in known high-volume homeless locations. Volunteers also helped to spread the word about the opportunity throughout the area.

Several organizations, such as United Way and the American Red Cross, partnered with the City to provide basic necessities for those in need. Volunteers, both individuals and members of organizations, also came together for the cause, as they worked to provide food, blankets, cots, pillows, clothes, personal hygiene supplies, and even Christmas decorations for those residing in the shelter.

“On a personal note, I’ve never seen anything that was more of an example of our community truly being the hands and feet of Christ for those that needed it most. This act of love and kindness was Christmas in action and I want to thank all of those that gave their time, talents, and resources for making it possible,” Roper remarked.

In addition to Mayor Roper and the local police chiefs and county sheriff, those involved with the shelter included Lyons Mayor Willis NeSmith,;Vidalia City Manager Nick Overstreet; Vidalia Recreation Director Scott Strickland; United Way of Montgomery, Toombs, and Wheeler Counties Director Patricia Dixon; Local American Red Cross Director Leitha Barfield; Vidalia Police Department Employee Jada Mone; and volunteers Cliff Sikes, Elizabeth Harvill, and Carolyn Foster- Brooks.

“It was great to see the support from the community and how much they care about others,” Walker commented on the event. “It is a perfect example of how this community can work together and get things done in times of need.”

He added that the Lyons Police Department was glad to be a part of the temporary housing for the homeless during the holiday season, which featured less than favorable elements this year. “We continue to work toward establishing resources to deal with homelessness in our area and hope to have a program in place in the near future.”

Volunteer Elizabeth Harvill also stressed the need for a more permanent solution to the issue of homelessness within the area, as she shared her experiences throughout the event, which included stories of uplifted spirits, generosity, and needs being met for the less fortunate. However, Harvill explained that Wednesday morning, December 28, did not have the same joy as the days prior.

“This morning was somber. The shelter closed at lunch today with the warmer weather moving in. There is just no ‘next steps’ for [the homeless], just back to homeless camps. I hugged one [person] that had been with us since it opened. She cried on my shoulder, and I cried on hers. It just feels so helpless,” Harvill said.

She continued, “I’m so grateful the shelter was opened in the bitter cold; but we have a continuing homeless problem that requires us to find a solution. Yes, there is a drug problem that perpetuates it. Yes, there are mental health issues that perpetuate it. Yes, some will find their way into the prison systems — but at the core, most homeless I know need resources to stand again.”

“I’ve been jaded by the actions of some that make me cautious, but every story is so different. I think that’s what I’ve learned the most in the past week: every story is completely different,” Harvill emphasized.

Local leaders assured they are continuing to work to develop options for those who find themselves homeless and hope to have a solution in the coming days.

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