An unfilled need in Bulloch County has sparked a group of people with compassion and generosity to form the Open Hearts Community Mission, a nonprofit organization that hopes to address the homeless problem in the community.
Numerous area churches and a handful of citizens began the mission after realizing the need, said Open Hearts chairman Delia Mobley.
“The Open Hearts Community Mission is a faith based ministry dedicated to serving the homeless by reaching out to those in need and extending God's love in practical ways,” she said. “We aim to promote self-efficiency by improving physical, mental, emotional and financial needs and by addressing social, moral and educational conditions of our temporary guests.”
Helping the homeless in the area has long been on the mind of many, but when rumors of “hundreds of people” camping behind a local retail store surfaced, the interest spiked.
Mobley said the rumors proved untrue, but some small camps were discovered in a number of wooded areas in Statesboro.
Some of the camps showed signs of children having lived there, such as discarded coloring books.
There are several reasons people become homeless, and a homeless person is not necessarily a “bad” person, Mobley said.
Job losses, the economy and poor choices can render one homeless. It isn’t always drugs and alcohol.
Foreclosures have skyrocketed since the economy took a plunge and more people are finding themselves without a home, she said.
“Poverty - juggling health care, childcare, grocery bills and housing is often times too much for those in poverty to handle,” she said. “If you're poor, it doesn't take much to push you over the edge to being homeless. You're basically an illness, accident or a paycheck away from being forced to live on the street.”
Lack of affordable housing and a decline in government assistance has contributed to the issue as well, she said.
The problem is worse than many realize. According to Bulloch County Schools homeless liaison Dionne Gamble, there are 18 homeless students in the school system, living in hotels.
Gamble works to help homeless students through the “Education for Homeless children Act, which “ensures that students are enrolled in school and assists them in overcoming the barriers that come along with being homeless,” she said.
In an effort to streamline the efforts to help the homeless, Open Hearts Community Mission is uniting several area churches, who have committed to helping fund shelter and needs for homeless persons. Churches on board include First United Methodist, First Baptist, Trinity Presbyterian, First Presbyterian, Eastern Heights Baptist Church, East Main Church of God, Crossroads Community Church, St. Matthew's, and Son's Light Fellowship Baptist.
“These are the churches we have spoken with thus far, but expect more to join in our efforts,” she said. “I've already been contacted by members from Pittman Park and Primitive Baptist.”
The mission won’t be limited to just Bulloch County-based homeless. “We will not turn someone away because they are not from here,” Mobley said.
But, this is not a free ride. The homeless persons must show a willingness to get back on their feet and to try to better their situation.
They will be required to fill out job applications each week, have a background check and drug test before being helped. “It is our goal to get folks a job and turn them into givers to their community by being taxpaying citizens,” she said. “Not everyone likes work, but the shelter will not be a free handout. There will be strict guidelines in place in order to help our guests help themselves. I'm excited about it.”
Her husband, Chip Mobley, agreed, offering a well-known quote: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”
For now, homeless people will be given shelter in local hotels, but a dream is to one day have its own shelter, Delia Mobley said.
Local churches are used to being asked for help by homeless and transients, but by linking together through Open Hearts Community Mission, it will simplify things and eliminate the possibility of churches duplicating services to the same person.
When a homeless person goes from church to church, resources are exhausted by being used on one person, when help can be distributed more evenly to more people in need if there is one central place for help, Mobley said.
Open Hearts Community Mission became incorporated by the state Oct. 9, with Mobley and vice chairman Jim Benton listed on incorporation papers. The board of directors also includes Rick Smith, Ricky Allen, Debbie Palmer, and Chip Mobley.
The advisory board includes Azure Roundtree, Jo Helen Propes, Janet and Cary Swanson, John Long, Leland Jeffers, Burke Basquin, Paula Cunningham, Linda Rushing and Dawn Mallard.
Robin Kersey, finance and administration director for First United Methodist Church, handles funds for the mission. Any donations can be sent to that Church, made out to FUMC, but with the Open Hearts Community Mission listed below.
The organization is separate from the church and affiliated with several community churches, but First United offered to handle the funds until Open Hearts gains its 501c3 nonprofit status.
Mobley said Open Hearts Community Mission will soon have a website and Facebook page.
For more information, contact Mobley at firstname.lastname@example.org
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.