Library provides opportunity to extend a helping hand to homeless in community

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Elizabethton-Carter County Public Library is more than books and computers. During the month of October, library personnel are collecting personal hygiene items and cold-weather oriented items for homeless individuals in our communities.

Homeless, you say, in Carter County? Whether we want to admit it or not, there are homeless individuals living among us, and they need a helping hand. It may not be as great a problem as in larger cities, but every community has a number of people with no place to call home.
Locally, there is no homeless shelter. The closest shelters are in Johnson City at the Salvation Army, or the Haven of Mercy.
The 2016 homeless count by the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homeless (ARCH) revealed only 10 homeless people in Carter County, which is low compared to other counties in the area.
Often, these people are often stereotyped as “lazy, not wanting or willing to work.”
In many instances that is a misrepresentation of who these people really are. Sometimes, they are just down on their luck or because of some hardship they find themselves out on the street.
A group of Milligan College students, who helped with last year’s count, learned that homeless takes a different form in rural areas like Northeast Tennessee — often far different than urban areas — and that the point-in-time survey didn’t count everyone, such as someone living on a couch, for instance.
They were surprised to learn how many people are not technically homeless but are in that lower income, overcrowded situation. A lot of people focus solely on the homeless and just take for granted the fact that so many people who are not technically homeless actually need the same kind of help. In this area, people often take care of their own, and that’s what can create the issue of overcrowding.
People can be in really bad situations and not technically be homeless. They often don’t want a hand out, but a helping hand or an opportunity to make it on their own.
People in small towns such as Elizabethton become homeless for pretty much the same reasons as people in urban areas: a job loss or a job that doesn’t pay enough to live on, a shortage of affordable housing, mental health or substance abuse issues, flight from domestic abuse, a health crisis or unexpected expense. Some constantly teeter on the brink of homelessness, or move back and forth between the housed and unhoused.
In big cities, you see the homeless virtually everywhere, sleeping under a bridge or in the park, pushing around overflowing shopping carts. Here, in Northeast Tennessee, the homeless live in the woods, in tents or in a car, campers, in barns and sheds. They crash on a friend’s couch. Or they’re living in a shack with no heat, electricity or running water — usually not far from where they were born and raised. Many of them are employed or underemployed.
Often, they don’t come forward for help because they are ashamed, advocates say. And because they’re not easily spotted, or they’re not showing up for help at agencies, some advocates for the homeless argue that the homeless are being undercounted.
Homelessness is a hidden hurt. The safety of homeless families becomes a more urgent concern as the temperatures drop.
While you might not be able to provide room and board for a homeless person, you can perhaps provide them with a warm blanket, a scarf or hat, warm socks, gloves and items such as hand sanitizer, soap, and shampoo.
When you don’t have, every item helps. The library project is a great opportunity to help someone in need.
Remember, it’s not a hand out, but a hand helping someone in need.

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