Since he lost his truck-driving job five months ago, Gene Laury has lived on the streets of Macon.
Friday, Laury got a roof over his head, moving into the one of the transitional homes provided by Loaves and Fishes.
We thank God for places like this that are willing to help those of us who in the homeless situation, he said. Regardless of what got you in that situation, theyre willing to help you get on your feet.
Loaves and Fishes, like other Macon-area organizations that serve the poor, is feeling the pinch from the economy. As more people seek assistance for such a basic need as feeding their families, money to fund those services is harder to come by.
Its that whole Catch-22, said Loaves and Fishes Executive Director Charles Hines. Grant money is down, more people are in need and less money is available.
About 40 percent of the organizations funding comes from government grants, which have been cut and are expected to be cut even more. Churches, corporations and individuals also have less money to give.
Loaves and Fishes usually ends its fiscal year with a small surplus, but it lost $30,000 last year and for the first time budgeted a loss this year, said development and marketing director Mary Gattis.
Were not sure where the money is going to come from. Individuals dont have the money to donate like they used to. Corporations dont have the money like they used to. More people are applying for the same funding, said Gattis. There are more people applying for food, clothing, shelter than ever before because of unemployment and people coming off unemployment.
Loaves and Fishes is one of 250 participating agencies served by the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, which is on pace to distribute 8.3 million pounds of food this year, said agency coordinator Doug Rohme.
What we have seen is the face of need has changed, said Rohme. Were seeing more of the working poor, people who are asking, Do I pay my car insurance this month or do I buy groceries? Before, it was typically people who were getting public assistance of some sort.
A dire situation
When the Salvation Army of Central Georgia built its homeless shelter years ago, there was not much need for living quarters for women and children. To say the least, that has changed. One night last week, the shelter housed 28 children, said Peggy Steele, the organizations director of development.
We are completely running over every night, especially with women and children, Steele said. Thats really changed the last two years, especially since the economy has been so bad. Some women are coming in with five or six children. Were putting mats down. Theyre sleeping in our waiting area and any available floor space.
Its really gotten to be a problem. Of course, the donations are down. We have more people coming in who used to send us $10 a month or so, and now theyre here in need of help. Its a dire situation.
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is gearing up for its annual Red Kettle campaign. The fundraiser kicks off Nov. 9.
Were hoping and praying our red kettles will bring in a lot and that the community will help with our canned-goods drives, said Steele.
The Macon Rescue Mission, another group that helps people in need, provides residential services for female victims of domestic abuse and their children at its Dove Center, and it helps homeless men battle drug and alcohol addiction with a number of services ranging from on-site recovery counseling and life skills coaching to GED classes and work experience.
Formed in 1952 by Macon police Sgt. A.E. McGee, the agency is celebrating its 60th anniversary with its Campaign 60 fundraising effort, encouraging donors to renew their commitments and new donors to join.
Loaves and Fishes, as well as most of the numerous churches that feed the hungry through hot meals or food pantries, buy groceries through the food bank, where goods can be bought at a bargain price of 18 cents per pound.
Were helping them offset their operating costs, Rohme explained.
The food bank serves 24 counties. Of the 250 agencies and churches the Food Bank serves, 150 are in Bibb County and another 45 are in Houston County. Rohme said in-house monetary donations made directly to the food bank, which support its mobile pantries that deliver 1,500 boxes of food to rural areas each month, have been steady.
Weve been pretty good with keeping up our awareness efforts, he said. Whats been really beneficial to us has been the volunteers.
The organization estimates the man-hours from volunteers otherwise would have cost about $800,000 in salaries last year.
The food bank allows charities that feed the poor to stretch those hard-to-come-by dollars. For multi-service organizations such as Loaves and Fishes, the need has never been greater for more money to help fund other functions.
Loaves and Fishes provides bag lunches on Tuesdays (on the mornings when Macon Outreach serves hot breakfast to the homeless) and provides bags of groceries on Wednesdays.
It also offers snacks, as well as free showers and laundry facilities, a clothing bank and library. On Thursdays, it offers assistance to clients in getting birth certificates and state-issued identification.
So far, the budget crunch has affected that service the most, with the agency having to turn away some requests. The state-issued IDs are required if theyre going to get a job or benefits, Hines said.
Fridays, the agency provides prescription drug assistance of up to $60 for medicines for life-threatening conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
A lot of people will come from the hospitals, and they still have their wristbands on, said Gattis. Theyll have their prescriptions with them but cant afford to fill them.
Loaves and Fishes transitional center provides 11 houses. Clients are assigned case managers and can take advantage of job-seeking assistance and financial management and nutrition classes. Most are referred to the agency by the Salvation Army, and all are drug tested and required to attend alcohol and drug counseling if needed.
Theyve lost their jobs. They got a divorce. Theyre going through some setback, said Gattis. We help them get back on their feet.
Laury, who said support from the church he attends kept him from being hungry while on the streets, plans to make use of every program he can while in the transition house.
He has not ruled out driving a truck again but said he hopes he can find a new career in counseling youth against the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Laury said he has battled addiction problems, though thats not why he lost his job.
One of my goals is to work closely with my church and youth. That would be a way of giving back to society, he said.
Loaves and Fishes officials say Laury was one of an estimated 600 homeless people living in Macon. He said he met people who were homeless from a variety of circumstances.
The key is to be willing to make an effort to better your situation, said Laury. There are a few of them out there who will not take advantage of whats offered to make them a productive citizen.
Gattis calls the agencys homeless clients the invisible people.
Most of them are people who are just down on their luck or theyre victims of circumstance, she said.