The hidden homeless

Photo illustration by Chalice Keith/The NewsPhoto illustration by Chalice Keith/The News

Homelessness, panhandling needs to be addressed in Murray

Story by Abby SiegelContributing writer

Photo illustration by Chalice Keith/The News

Photo illustration by Chalice Keith/The News

The city of Murray is facing a “hidden” issue of homelessness that needs to be addressed,  said Sherece Cole, director of the Gentry House.

Unlike bigger cities in which it is a chronic problem, the city of Murray struggles with it “behind closed doors,” Cole said.

Chronic homelessness means being without a place to live for a year or more or having at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cole said the homelessness in Murray is often situational, episodic, transitional and cyclical, meaning it is influenced by seasons both in their personal life and society. These people become displaced because of situations beyond their control, such as being evicted or not being able to find a job.

“Many of the homeless families with children are people who were one paycheck or one catastrophe away from being homeless,” said Peggy Pittman-Munke, interim program director of the Council on Social Work Education.

“Many people who wind up homeless have no job security, no sick leave, no vacation and work for minimum wage, and they have no savings,” she said.

Many nonprofit organizations within Murray serve the homeless through feeding programs, such as Soup for the Soul and Need Line. Angels Community Clinic provides free basic medical care to the working uninsured of Calloway County. The Warming Center provides overnight shelter during the winter months when the temperature is at or below freezing.

The only year-round shelter in Calloway County is the Gentry House, which provides up to 90 days of emergency transitional housing for homeless families. Single parents, dating couples with children and married couples with children are welcomed to the transitional home if they have custody of their children. They must be seeking employment or education and permanent housing while at the shelter.

By using the four apartments they have, last year the Gentry House served 23 families – 31 adults and 46 children. They are unable to serve singles, pregnant women, those with disabilities and the elderly, but they do provide emergency assistance when necessary by connecting them to other resources they may need.

“The Gentry House is good for those who have families, but it doesn’t really help those that are on their own,” said Jessie Walsh, junior from Bardstown, Kentucky.

Shelter is unavailable in Murray for those who do not fit the criteria for the Gentry House. Cole said these people are not on the streets, but rather are couch surfing and living in their vehicles.

Despite various factors, the main reason people become homeless is because they can’t find housing they can afford. About 15 percent of the 578,424 total homeless people in the United States are chronically homeless, leaving 85 percent to be in similar situations as those homeless in Murray, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Cole said in addition to the lack of housing, a lack of jobs has impacted this population.

“Murray is a small city; we are trying to grow but we aren’t growing fast enough and the cost of living is expensive and it’s just not balancing out,” Cole said. “The cost of rent is extreme, the cost of an electric deposit is extreme, and these things hinder people.”

People have begun panhandling, or asking for money, in Murray. A panhandling ban was discussed at City Council before the ordinance was tabled.

Walsh said panhandling isn’t a large problem for Murray. However, she said it seems that those who are begging have lost their jobs, but still have somewhere to go for shelter.

“People don’t beg if they can get their needs met without begging,” Pittman-Munke said. 

“Some of those who were panhandling were people who were passing through to get elsewhere and were trying to raise gas money,” she said.

Cole said students can volunteer at the Gentry House and all skills are welcomed. She said they are in constant need of cleaning supplies, hygiene products and laundry detergent and donations are always welcomed.

“As a community we should try to help each other and work together,” she said.

WHERE TO GO TO HELP

Tierra Reese, Staff writer

Soup for the Soul

Soup for the Soul, a nonprofit organization that survives on donations and volunteers alone, is hosting an annual Thanksgiving dinner.

This dinner will be held at the Murray Banquet Center with a devotion that starts at 11 a.m. and the meal begins at noon.

In addition to a Thanksgiving meal, Soup for the Soul will drive from house to house to pass out boxed meals to listed confined people.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” said Debbie Smith, director of event.

Need Line

Need Line, a community and church ministry, known for their Christmas boxed meals, has decided to mainly focus on Christmas holiday volunteer work. Tonia Casey, executive director, said during this time of year they put extra stuffing and sweet potatoes in their pantry food bags.

She said Need Line has about 955 families that need their assistance.

Casey said her volunteers are planning on making cookies for Soup for the Soul and that “people can eat and don’t have to do the dishes” at the annual dinner.

The Journey Church

This year, the Journey Church is involving middle and high school students to collect food items for boxes to send out toward the end of November. They also plan on sending boxes out for Christmas through a program called “Operation Christmas Child.”

Jarrad Martin, director of Family Ministries, said $40,000 is given away to nonprofit organizations like Need Line, Casa and the Ginger-House around this time of year. Martin also said he and other workers from the church will be serving the Soup for the Soul dinner on Thanksgiving.