In May 2018, One Voice Shelter Coalition, Inc. was established to secure temporary dwellings for homeless women and children within the Lee County area.
Now, the nonprofit is seeking partnerships and donations to renovate and build shelters.
“We had people that would call the Lee-Russell Council of Government for assistance for shelter and additional utility payments,” coalition vice president Selena Daniel said. “The waiting list is very long for public assistance, so we decided we would attempt to build or partner with other people to provide shelter for folks that don’t have permanent housing.”
Coalition president Jean Causey recalled a working mother requesting assistance to acquire shelter for her two children. Without the aid of apartment complexes and no official facility, Causey elicited the help of churches and the council of government to rent a hotel room for a month.
“I asked Selena if there were any houses or apartments available we could put this lady in because Selena is a realtor,” Causey said. “She said, ‘Unfortunately, no. There’s no temporary or transitional housing here in Lee County.' So I said, ‘Selena, this seems to be a problem because I had heard someone talk about this a week before.' She said, ‘It is a problem that needs to be addressed.’ That’s how we started.”
An unknown problem
With a few partnerships assembled, Daniel and Causey’s desire to serve the homeless transformed into the One Voice Shelter Coalition.
Since its establishment, the coalition has handled 70 requests for shelter as this problem continues to grow, Causey said.
“All of these people are working, or they have fixed income,” Causey said. “Most of them have lost their housing due to a rise in the rent, and they are just turned out on the street. I had a young girl call me and said that she was sleeping in a laundromat. We have students sleeping in tents or sleeping on somebody’s floor. We have people sleeping in cars. They are parking at different places during the night.”
After hearing stories from Daniel and Causey, District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham expressed concern for the lack of awareness for the homeless.
“The places I go every day, I don’t see it,” Ham said. “I did park next to this lady one time, and her car was just stuffed full. She was sitting in the car throwing bird seed out in the parking lot, and it caught my attention. I went home and told my wife, ‘I think that lady was traveling through here and didn’t have anywhere to go.’ Elizabeth said, ‘I know exactly who she is. I see her all the time.’”
Ham, Daniel, Causey and other volunteers have sacrificed their time, money and effort to renovate a temporary shelter donated by the Bridge Church in Beulah. This shelter will house three employed, homeless women to ensure their needs are met as they become financially stable.
“When it’s finished, there’s three people that are going to move in there,” Ham said. “It’s temporary housing, so they can get things back together. All three of them have jobs, and if you saw them walking down the street, you would not have a clue they are homeless. If you saw them in the place they worked, it would never occur to you. They had something terrible happen in their lives, and they want to get things right.”
‘The new face of homelessness’
Causey stated most of the homeless seeking assistance are invested in earning their keep as they develop enough income to sustain their families.
“It’s mostly women and children,” Causey said. “Those that have just been dealt a hard blow, and they need a hand up, not a handout. They don’t want a handout. They want a place to stay. They don’t want people to give to them. They want to earn their way. These are people that are working and paying taxes right here in our community.”
The coalition is continually searching for partnerships and donors interested in providing more shelters. Potential donors can contribute by contacting Causey at 334-749-5246 and Daniel at 334-750-0741.
“The public is really not aware of a number of people that are sleeping in their cars, don’t have places to stay and can’t afford housing,” Daniel said. “We have this dream and we’re trying to fulfill it, but we need the public to help us with it.”
A One Voice Shelter Coalition Meeting will be held in the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Thursday, April 11 at 2 p.m., and residents are welcome to listen to the coalition’s current developments and receive an opportunity to serve the homeless.
“This is something people don’t want to talk about,” Causey said. “When we first started this, I would say, ‘It’s not the person under the bridge anymore that’s homeless. It’s people that are working and have an income, and something has happened in their life. They are out on the street. This is the new face of homelessness.”