Homelessness in rural America is a growing problem, and communities in the four states are not immune. Many Pittsburg residents don't know homelessness exists in their community. Marcee Binder, lead pastor at the Welsey House, says around 75 people homeless have asked for help since September of 2015. Last month's count was around 50 people.
Kevin Scroggins is one of them. He says he spends his days looking for food, jobs and spending time at the Wesley House where he eats breakfast, lunch and showers.
"A lot of the workforce, they want you to have an address in order for you to be able to get a job,” Scroggins said.
Scroggins is one of the dozens of homeless people in Pittsburg getting services from the Wesley House. Lead pastor Marcee Binder says you might not see people like Scroggins because the homeless are creative in their finding refuge.
"Our folks hide because they don't want attention drawn to them. Because there are a lack of resources in this area."//"We don't have a shelter, so they're having to either double up and we have women who are using their bodies as a commodity. As I said, we have people living in drainage ditches. I mean they are creative in their places that they stay because they want to be safe,” Binder said.
The shelter in Pittsburg, "CHOICES" closed down in several years ago due to a change in one of their funding streams. Since then, there is no safe place for people like Scroggins to go at night. Binder says many homeless in the area sleep in strip pits or outside of town on farms.
This summer, the homeless problem was brought into plain sight when a "tent city" set up outside the Wesley House. The city disbanded the tent city because officials say it is illegal, dangerous, and disease can spread quickly. The people of Pittsburg saw the homeless problem for what it was. And they took action.
“So I think the combination of seeing it coupled with the kindness and generosity of this community has kind of bubbled this up right now,” Becky Gray, director of community development/housing for the city of Pittsburg said.
A homeless task force formed with 80 members, taking a two-prong approach to the homeless issue: a short-term solution for a shelter in the winter and a permanent shelter as a long term goal.
"They're talking things like what's the service model going to look like? How big of a facility do we need? Where should it be located? Should we try to renovate? Should we build from new? Those kinds of questions,” Gray said.
The volunteer task force is making headway, having raised $1,000 in seed money to get started.
"You know how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So if you've got a lot of people going at it, it makes it doable. So it provides us with hope."//"To know there's a group of people in this community that want change to happen for the least of these feels good. And it makes it feel...it affirms the work that we do,” Binder said.
For Deborah Harris, homelessness is new. She and her boyfriend lost their home unexpectedly and she is what is classified as "situationally homeless", meaning she is likely to get in a better situation than someone who chronically homeless, or homeless numerous times in the span of a few years.
“I've always had a place and always taken care of people. For me it's putting a burden on people, it's really hard for me to do something like that,” Harris said.
Harris eats breakfast and lunch and showers at the Wesley House, she calls it a “godsend”. She and her boyfriend sleep in their vehicle.
“You can't really get rested, you wake up throughout the night, there's mosquitos and stuff and it's really hard to get a full night's sleep," Harris said.
Things will soon change for people like Harris, the Lord's Diner will open this month and provide a hot, nutritious meal every night to anyone who wants it.
Upon hearing of the task force formed to help people in her situation, Harris said:
“That's awesome, that sounds great. That sounds like somebody's taking the initiative and actually doing something about this you know it's great.”
People like PJ Graham hope to make a dent on the homeless problem in Pittsburg. It was put on her heart to join the task force to look for a solution.
"I was fortunate that I was very secure growing up, but yet we were poor. We could have been homeless a number of times if we had not had help,” Graham said.
Graham and volunteers, including PSU Enactus students, work to set up a code-blue shelter for this winter, a place for people to go when hypothermia threatens. An ultimate goal is a long-term shelter with resources backed by the community.
"I know that this is a very complex issue, it's not as clean-cut as a lot of people would think, just open a building and bring it in. There's a lot of details people don't think about,” Graham said.
Volunteers are fundraising, and looking for a building, it will take an estimated $100,000 to start up the shelter. Over at the Wesley House, Binder looks forward to when all the moving parts will eventually work together.
“Things are gonna change. I don't know how, I don't know what it looks like, but I know that we will forever be a part of it. Because that's what we do, we're Wesley House, we're part of the church. The church says we're supposed to help each other,” Binder said.
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