Thursday, July 8, 2010
I am so proud of our Food Not Bomb folk. They have just started Homeless Helping Homeless, have organized two service projects with more in the works, and have gotten wonderful positive publicity. We are all working to change the stereotype people have of the homeless. This organization is going to do so much to open peoples' eyes to the humanity of us all and to help people understand that the homeless feel part of the community and want to contribute to it. Here is the lovely article from The State that was printed July 5th:
Homeless Help Themselves
New group works to improve image of city's street-dwellers
By NOELLE PHILLIPS
John Holmes knows the look Columbia's homeless people get on the street.
He is one of them.
John Holmes and area homeless and formerly homeless have formed the group Homeless Helping Homeless.
Holmes, 54, is trying to change that perception through a new group called Homeless Helping Homeless.
He and a handful of other homeless men and women started meeting in May at the old Fox Theater on
Main Street. Since then, they have sponsored two service projects, and Holmes has made a presentation to Columbia City Council about their needs.
“Our overall goal,” Holmes said, “is to present ourselves as responsible, respectable members of this community.”
On a recent Saturday, Holmes and 24 other homeless people gathered on the 1600 block of
Main Street to pick up trash. They roamed an alley with rakes and shovels, scooping up mounds of cardboard, foam cups, beer bottles and cigarette boxes.
Sweat poured down Holmes’ face as he and three other men climbed over a barbed-wire fence to clear trash surrounding the air-conditioning system of
. The men filled three bags with garbage and tossed them over the fence so they could be loaded into a pickup truck on loan from City Center Partnership. Sidney Park Christian Methodist Church
The nook is a hiding spot for homeless people looking for a safe place to sleep, said Holmes, who said he once was assaulted while trying to sleep in the open.
“With limited shelters and places to sleep, we try to find secure places,” he said.
More than 1,000 homeless people live in
Richland and counties, according to a 2009 count. Of those, Holmes estimates about 25 percent are willing and capable of working. They have either fallen on hard times in the bad economy or past mistakes are hindering job searches. Lexington
“Some of us want to be employable,” he said.
Troy Pierce, 50, was limited in the amount of heavy lifting he could perform because of a heart condition that forced him to lose his job. But the burley man slung a pouch of medicine over his shoulder and did what he could.
“I want to work, but seeing as how I can’t work, I can’t pay rent,” Pierce said. “I can’t pay rent, so here I am. I don’t do drugs or drink myself to death. I used to drive my car through here and think the same things y’all say. Then I walked a mile in their shoes.”
Pierce said he is waiting to qualify for public housing and disability payments. Until then, he will be homeless, and he plans to be involved in the new group.
“It may be a month, or it may be a year,” he said. “Until then, I’ll be here.”
“We’re not bad,” Lane said. “We’re trying to live.”
They lost their home after her husband was laid off. She was a college student. Now, their two children live with grandparents while they search for jobs and a permanent home.
“As my husband says, ‘It’s not always about you,’” Lane said. “I believe there is a way to make it better. I’m not looking for anything back. I want to help.”
After two hours of work, volunteers from agencies who regularly support the homeless fed the group bologna sandwiches, fruit cups and cookies. Those volunteers did not help with the trash pickup, saying they only attended to show support for a group of homeless people trying to help themselves.
“I’m trying to be supportive,” said Jean Denman, a downtown resident who helped secure shovels and rakes for the cleaning project. “I’m not part of anything, but I’m supporting from the sidelines.”
Homeless Helping Homeless got its start after a similar organization in
Charlotte brought members to Columbia for a rally. Holmes said he saw a flier for the event, and it was a time when he felt especially down about his situation. Finlay Park
“I was asking God to deliver me and show me what to do,” Holmes said. “And 48 hours later a pamphlet dropped in my lap.”
Now, he is pouring energy into the group.
People who are involved in homeless issues are becoming used to seeing Holmes at meetings and other events.
Larry Arney, executive director of the Midlands Housing Alliance, which is building a new shelter on Main Street, said he has run into Holmes at a neighborhood meeting and while giving a presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Woodrow Street.
“Right there on the third pew was
John Holmes,” Arney said. “I asked if he wanted to say anything, and later I joked that I’m kind of tired of being the warm-up act for John Holmes. He speaks so effectively.”
Holmes, a Navy veteran, moved to
five years ago to find work. But he was addicted to crack, and that led to life on the streets, he said. South Carolina
“I don’t do anything now except smoke cigarettes,” he said.
He said he has filled out nearly two dozen job applications for hotel and restaurant work, but no one has hired him.
Holmes leads the group’s regular meetings, where about 20 people show up.
To be on the leadership team, a member must be a registered voter, attend 12 meetings and adopt a project.
The group’s first project was to help a
West Columbia church set up a large tent for a revival. Four members of the group ended up getting temporary jobs that paid $12 per hour from that gig, Holmes said.
Kevin White, 54, serves as the group’s co-director with Holmes.
He became homeless after being released from the
, and his wife refused to allow him back into their home. He already had a felony charge from 1980 that also makes it hard to find work. Lexington County Detention Center
White said he has been searching for a job and working to save his marriage. During the cleanup, his wife joined the group’s effort and stood by White’s side while eating sandwiches.
He hopes Homeless Helping Homeless reverses the stigma associated with people who live on the streets.
“We still have goals in our lives,” he said. “We’re still trying hard. I’m being blessed in taking a positive attitude that homelessness is something that can be overcome.”