By Ben Anderson – The Times
The Salvation Army in Gainesville is asking for the community’s support as the number of homeless people and cost-burdened renters seeking help has “skyrocketed” in the past few years.
“We’ve had to turn closets into rooms and other rooms into dormitories because the need is so great,” said Andre Pereira, who has served as the commanding officer at the Gainesville location for the past three-and-a-half years. “The need for homeless services has completely skyrocketed.”
Pereira said they have enough room for 50 people, and they have gone from five to eight staff members since 2020 to meet the demand. In 2020, they served nearly 4,700 people. In 2021, that number rose to around 7,000 — a 49% increase in demand. In the same time frame, the number of meals provided increased from 6,700 to 15,000 — a 124% increase.
In late September, the Salvation Army in Athens had to pause some of its services due to a funding shortfall, according to reporting from the Athens Banner-Herald. The Athens Salvation Army could not be reached on Tuesday.
Periera said they aren’t having to pause any of their services in Gainesville, but donations are declining while costs are rising. He did not have details about how much funding they have or how much they need, but estimated that more than 60% of their funding comes from donations.
He said their troubles stem less from a decline in donations and more from an increase in costs.
“Inflation is real for us, too,” he said. “And if we’re going to continue to serve the way we have, we need everybody’s support.”
Pereira said they’ve hired philanthropic consulting firm Arthur Alley to study how they can best use the resources they have to serve the needs of the community.
He said more “first-time clients” are showing up at the shelter.
“We’re providing financial assistance to people that before would not even be coming to us,” he said. “People that live in so-called luxury apartments are now coming to us for help with rent and utilities.” He added that they give the money directly to peoples’ landlords.
Crystal Porter, 42, said the shelter saved her from an abusive relationship last year.
She said her ex-boyfriend had beaten her so badly that she was hospitalized and a person at the hospital recommended the shelter. After about a month as a resident, she began working for the shelter and is now one of its social workers.
“I don’t know where I would be without them,” she said. “I didn’t have any other options.”
Obedience Mashiach, 50, lived in her truck for three weeks before moving into the shelter in June.
She was kicked out of her apartment complex after it had gone “bankrupt,” she said. An Army veteran who was stationed in Alaska during the first Gulf War in the 1990s, she said she suffered abuse and a brain injury and now draws disability for post-traumatic stress disorder.
She clutched a stuffed monkey wearing a leather jacket and aviator sunglasses.
“His name is Hashem,” she said, laughing. “He came with the jacket, but I bought him some clothes.” Her stuffed animals help her post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
The Salvation Army is a nonprofit evangelical Christian organization that serves as a homeless shelter and food pantry and also provides job training and drug rehabilitation services.
Pereira’s call for community help is reminiscent of Bible verses which say to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“These people that come to us, they are our neighbors,” Pereira said. “I think it takes all of us to help them get back on their feet because that benefits all of us.”
Anyone wanting to volunteer can call the shelter at 770-531-0135.
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Source: American Military News