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Helping hand for homeless in Boro
Victims aim to become self-sufficient
Web HOMELESS 1
After a trip to the store to buy a few groceries, a homeless Linda Bunton cuddles with a pillow and a Bible while watching television in a room at the Hometown Inn paid for by Open Hearts Community Mission. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Every day, most of us get out of bed, go to work, make a day’s pay and return to a nice evening with dinner, family, television and all the comforts of home.
But not everyone is that fortunate. Some wake in the morning with frost on their eyelashes, climb out of a makeshift tent in the woods somewhere and wonder what is for breakfast.
 Some may camp in an abandoned building somewhere. Often, families live under bridges. The more fortunate have jobs that enable them to live week to week in a cheap hotel, and their children may be able to attend school, but overall, these people lack something most of us have: homes.
There are a number of homeless people in Statesboro and Bulloch County. The Statesboro Police Department investigated and debunked rumors that hundreds camp out behind a local retail store, but a handful of campsites were discovered deep in those woods and in the woodlands off Gentilly Road.
Camp sites showed evidence of humans living for extended periods of time in the woods. Some camps even had discarded crayons and coloring books, indicating the presence of children.
Delia Mobley, chairman of newly-formed Open Hearts Community Mission, has helped a woman with a small child who was living in the woods. Currently the mission is helping a few people down on their luck by providing shelter at local motels, as well as encouragement and support in helping them find jobs, she said.
But the mission is just beginning, and there are still people in this community who have no family to support them, don’t know where their next meal may come from and who have no place to truly call home.
Linda Bunton is one who has been helped by Open Hearts, and has now moved to a home provided by friends from a local church.
She had been living in housing provided by a community program, but an inadvertent breaking of the rules resulted in her being evicted, she said. When her family visited, it seems she had not obtained proper permission, and suddenly found herself homeless – again.
“Do you know how degrading that is, to have to ask permission for family to visit?” she asked. Bunton still receives aid from the program in dealing with mental illness, but that condition as well as physical limitations make it difficult for her, she said.
One of the rules for getting help from Open Hearts Community Mission is that clients must apply for jobs and work hard to better their lives, Mobley said.
Bunton said that isn’t so easy for someone like her with mental illness.
Bipolar, with anger issues, Bunton grew up with a schizophrenic father and has a history of instability. Having been in foster care for years, she grew up and found herself homeless for the first time when she left an abusive relationship and her husband went to jail. What followed was a series of stays in a women’s shelter, with friends here and there, and being bounced around for years.
“I didn’t get taught to deal with the real world,” she said.
She has lived in her car on many occasions. “It’s scary, very scary,” she said. “Where do you get gas? How do you bathe? The overwhelming feeling of despair makes you hopeless. I’ve been on food stamps, and have shoplifted to get needs.”
Fortunately, Bunton does have a car and access to some aid. Others do not, due to lack of knowledge about programs and resources that can help.
George Wilson, an elderly Bulloch County resident, recently found himself homeless through no fault of his own.
Most homeless people end up that way due to job loss, foreclosure or other obstacles, Mobley said. “Being homeless doesn’t mean you are a bad person.”
Wilson was evicted from his home after the landlord found problems with the septic system that could not be corrected immediately. For a time he was homeless, then he spent his entire Social Security check on deposit and rental of a mobile home. That left nothing for lights, food or anything else, he said.
“I’ve been a farmer all my life,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but being homeless isn’t a good thing.”
He worked hard for other farmers, but never got a pension or planned for the future. When his health failed due to complications from a lifetime of working with toxic chemicals, his luck began spiraling downward, and eventually he reached the end of his rope.
A friend, Jennifer Sheffield, posted a request on Facebook asking people to trade canned goods and other things for items she planned to sell in order to help Wilson. He had few clothes, no food, no way to cook what he could get, and no way to store perishable items.
Sheffield said she was overwhelmed with the response, and a Facebook Page, “Helping the Homeless/Needy,” grew out of the outpouring of offers from caring citizens.
Now Wilson has electricity, thanks to donations from people who read Sheffield’s request on Facebook. People donated clothes, food, blankets and other items as well, she said.
 And, her plea or help for George brought attention to another homeless person who was living in a shed.
Ricky NeSmith said he had a stroke three years ago that left his right arm useless. “I can’t work. I applied for disability, but got a letter (recently) that said I was denied.”
Like both Wilson and Bunton, NeSmith doesn’t have family who are able to help him. He is living in the shed in his brother-in-law’s back yard, having become homeless when his girlfriend broke up with him and kicked him out.
He had nowhere else to go, he said.
With no job and no income at all, he found himself with several unmet needs. “I have no heat, no bed, no plumbing,” he said. He has been living in the shed for a few years, and winters are hard.
“It’s terrible. It makes you think I should have lived different” Filled with questions about whether he could have prevented it, NeSmith said he does not know what caused his stroke.
Becoming homeless is a slippery slope, Bunton said. Her problems began as a child, and her mental illness has always caused her difficulty in finding and keeping jobs and maintaining a stable life.
“With mental illness, you need all the help you can get,” she said. “Even if you can get food stamps, it is hard to cook when you have no home.”
Bunton said she appreciates Open Hearts Community Mission, but said Bulloch County doesn’t have enough resources for people who are homeless.
Mobley said the mission, which unites several local churches in efforts to help house those in need, is a work in progress. Anyone willing  to donate may do so by sending a check to First United Methodist Church, with the check marked for Open Hearts Community Mission, and questions may be sent to openheartscommunitymission@yahoo.com.
The mission is not affiliated with any certain church, but FUMC has offered to handle funds for the mission until the group completes its nonprofit status.
“Homelessness is not fun,” Bunton said. “It can be really scary, especially for those who have no car to sleep in and sleep on the ground. But, there is hope, and help.” She said she hopes to get to a place in her life where she can one day help others who are where she had been.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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