Edge of homelessness: Outreach found in Shelbyville

Friday, May 14, 2010
Bobbie Jo Roland, 38, Lewisburg, agreed to share her story publicly in the hope that it would help others realize how close to homelessness area residents are during hard times. She's looking for work to support herself and her two children.

Women and children are the face of homelessness in Marshall County and across America, according to social workers, volunteers at shelters and some Lewisburg ladies who've been helping Bobbie Jo Roland.

She was at the edge of homelessness in the back seat of a sheriff's patrol car last winter. She couldn't stay where she was, but a place was found at Haven of Hope in Tullahoma for Bobbie Jo and her two children.

A Marshall County sheriff's deputy was driving her to the Bedford County line where a Bedford deputy was to shuttle her to the Coffee County line where another deputy would drive her and the kids to the shelter.

But it was snowing and Bedford County called saying they had too many other calls, so the welfare shuttle had to be postponed.

"God works in strange way," Bobbie Jo said Wednesday afternoon at a local motel while retelling her tale.

Moving to the shelter would have moved her son from school here. He'd become acclimated to the school. That was hard for the boy who's been in counseling. His parents are separated. They'd been living at her sister's and her aunt's homes. Before the "couch surfing" from house to house, they lived in an apartment complex that accepts rent vouchers from the Public Housing Authority.

Celebration Inn proprietor Millie Miller took Bobbie Jo in, again. Miller also took her to the Lewisburg City Council about four months ago when the elected leaders asked the city manager to find out what other cities do about homelessness. Most of what cities do is provide utilities, police and fire safety, public works, other services, but very little social work.

That message came back and then about six weeks ago the Rotary Club here had Carl Bailey as its luncheon speaker. Peggy Hubbard, an insurance agent in Lewisburg introduced as the president and chairman of the board for CROSS Shelter Project Inc., in Shelbyville. Miller asked Bailey to come to the Lewisburg club.

Community Religious Outreach Social Services (CROSS) Shelter Project has been providing services as indicated by its name, but recently, Bailey discovered that Buffalo Valley had landed a contract with the state to administer economic stimulus money from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of Congress.

Buffalo Valley provides housing, personal help and various services to people often associated with the criminal court system. The nonprofit organization operates several group homes in Lewisburg.

However, it is chartered to be able to contract for the administration of programs including one funded by federal stimulus funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is funding efforts to prevent homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided Tennessee with $13.1 million through its Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRR) Stimulus Package, Bailey explained in a telephone interview recently. Buffalo Valley has the contract to administer more than $1 million of that federal money for a 19-county region, including Marshall, Bedford and other counties such as Lewis County where Buffalo Valley's headquarters are located in Hohenwald.

Bailey says the funding through Buffalo Valley wasn't divided up by counties in the 19-county region, but he's found the funding at the Hohenwald office and has been helping people fill out the 13-page document when they want to apply for assistance. The funding is to underwrite housing costs to prevent people from becoming homeless.

The need was great and a first round of federal funding has been succeeded with more funding, Bailey said.

Lorrie Shearon, the chief strategy officer for the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA), confirmed the state's receipt of $13,467,000 in HPRR ARRA funds and that the money was distributed in different ways across the state. The Tennessee Department of Human Services contracted with THDA to administer the distribution of the funding to other agencies, Shearon said.

"Some of it is for short-term rental assistance," Shearon said. "Rental assistance could be up to 18 months, but you have to re-qualify every three months.

"This is to be a temporary step for those who could not pay rent. This is for those who have recently lost their home or are about to lose their home," Shearon said. "It's for the group that is temporarily on the edge because of the economy.

The funds could pay overdue rent, she said.

This is in contrast with other programs, Shearon said.

"A lot of the homeless money coming down has been for the chronically homeless people... defined as people with multiple episodes of homelessness, mental health problems... chemical problems.

"There is an overwhelming need for this," Shearon said of the program designed to deal with homelessness that increased because of the recession.

A classic example might include Bobbie Jo, Miller said. Other examples include a young family in which the father of the children lost his job from a layoff and after searching for work locally, he found work in another state and went there.

Bailey, Hubbard, Miller and others seem to agree that the father may never forget about the obligations he left behind, but he might not be able to send money back.

"What we've heard from across the state," Shearon said, "is that some agencies have a back log of appointments and that they had to cut it off."

Stepping into that gap here are religious people who have been helping locals for years. One of them is the Rev. Carletta Webster, 46, a volunteer at the Pregnancy Resource Center and a minister at Greater First Baptist Church.

"Me and Peggy are supposed to get in contact with Mr. Bailey and work through these issues," Webster said Wednesday. They plan to meet Bailey in Shelbyville, or in Lewisburg.

Webster and Hubbard are members of the In His Image Pregnancy Resource Center Board and have worked together to help people.

"This is one of the things we are pursuing," Webster said.

She estimates there are "more than a half a dozen" single mothers in this community who need help.

"I've been working with the Pregnancy Center for about five years, but haven't been in it for the homeless until recently," she said.

Webster anticipates being the Lewisburg contact person to help people apply for assistance before they become homeless ... before they find themselves at the edge of homelessness like Bobbie Jo.