Homeless, hungry too

Moderated by Rick Badie

No plans for Saturday? The Fulton County sheriff invites you to attend and assist with an annual Homeless Initiative, a block party for a worthy cause that takes place this weekend on Central Avenue in downtown Atlanta. In the companion column, a volunteer for a Lawrenceville nonprofit tells us the shelves of many food pantries across metro Atlanta are running low. She explains how the situation puts children at risk and asks people to donate.

For homeless, a day of hope

By Ted Jackson

When the sun rises on Central Avenue near the Fulton County Courthouse and many are coming to work, there is another rush of people circulating, rolling suitcases and toting bags, blankets and other belongings. They are part of Fulton’s homeless population. Nearby churches and shelters offer them breakfast. They get their meals and often keep moving, while some linger around downtown buildings.

There’s another story at the Fulton County Jail. An internal report conducted last week indicated 162 inmates were classified as homeless during the booking process. They told jail staff they lived in shelters. Some did not know their addresses. That snapshot reflects what detention officers, deputies, jail medical staff and other civilian workers see every day, all year long.

Five years ago, during a discussion with Fulton County Sheriff’s Office volunteer chaplains, an idea arose to reach out to this population in distress. The chaplains wanted to establish a project to provide these citizens with basic needs — critical items such as deodorant, razors, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other toiletries, and socks to help keep their feet clean and dry.

This volunteer-powered endeavor became known as the Homeless Initiative. Chaplains, staff and neighbors donate the toiletries, which are distributed as kits, hot meals, services and entertainment for the crowds that gather.

This year, the initiative will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the form of a block party on Central Avenue, in front of the Fulton County Courthouse. Event organizers have secured city permits to have Central closed to traffic from Mitchell Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The first Homeless Initiatives took place in parks around downtown. Those efforts taught us how to improve the project, which increased the number of persons who come to receive help. There also appears to be a high concentration of persons in need outside the doors of the courthouse, sheriff’s office, City Hall, Capitol, Underground Atlanta and the other attractions that draw tourists.

Homelessness is not a crime. We cannot criminalize citizens who do not have a permanent address.

Included in the Homeless Initiative will be interaction with health professionals. In years past, participants could take an HIV test. To allay fears, I took the HIV test first. There have been blood-pressure screenings and nurses to speak with participants. Deputies who are emergency medical technicians will be present to respond to any crises. The Sheriff’s Office Chaplaincy Program will offer spiritual counseling. Deputies and detention officers will lend their ears to listen to concerns.

The Homeless Initiative continues to grow. In 2014, approximately 1,000 people were fed and given supplies. While this effort is one day of outreach, the goal of the Homeless Initiative is to serve as a day of hope to encourage our neighbors and show them we care.

If anyone wants to help, please call us at 404-612-9185 or email us at info@fultonsheriff.net.

Ted Jackson is the Fulton County Sheriff.

Restore food pantries

Denise Townsend

Being hungry affects children for life. Their hunger affects our communities every day.

It’s time to restock food pantries across the Atlanta metro area. After a summer of high demand because children were out of school, many food pantries’ shelves are nearly empty. You may have heard that’s because many children receive lunch and even breakfast at school. But don’t relax now that they are going back to school.

Where do these children get their dinners during the week, and their meals on the weekend? Many families struggle to provide those meals and look to their local food pantry to help fill the gap.

I am a volunteer for Quinn House, a Lawrenceville Christian ministry for food distribution, clothing/home goods assistance and men’s addiction recovery. There, I have learned a lot about hunger, als0 known as food insecurity.

Food insecurity means you don’t always know where you will find your next meal. Georgia ranks seventh in the country for food insecurity; nearly 30 percent of Georgia’s children experience it each day. In the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s 29-county service area, the figure is 24.5 percent of children.

What has disturbed me most is learning how food insecurity affects a child’s present and future. Child hunger is a health, educational and workforce and job readiness problem. It affects the future well-being of our communities.Some people who know about the child hunger problem help with donations to food pantries. I am not sure why so many who can help do not. Sometimes a problem can seem far away from our own reality. Either it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, or it doesn’t affect my life and the future of my children. These reasons are false for all of us.

The people served by the Feeding America food bank network include many we don’t think of as food insecure. The majority of adults have at least a high school diploma; more than one-quarter have completed education beyond high school. More than 10 percent are current students, continuing their education. About 20 percent of households contain someone who has either past or present military service.

Among households with at least one child, more than half fall below the poverty line, but the others earn more than that. Nearly half live in houses or townhouses and another third, in apartments. Over the last few years, economic conditions have moved many of our neighbors from security to insecurity about many things, including food.

Studies by Harvard University and others show us the bigger picture of how hunger affects children’s health, behavior and future job readiness. Hungry children are sick more often, have impaired development, do more poorly in school and have more social and behavioral problems. They are not as well-prepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively in the modern workforce. They create a pool of workers that’s less competitive, with lower educational and technical skills. Child hunger leads to greater health care costs for families and employers and greater absenteeism and turnover in the workplace.

If this bigger picture makes you want to do something about child hunger, support your local food pantry. Quinn House and all food pantries need shelf-stable protein like canned tuna, chicken and peanut butter and also cereals, rice, macaroni and cheese and canned soups/pastas. Local food pantries use monetary donations to get food at minimal cost from the Atlanta Community Food Bank. They are able to use each $1 donated to provide more than $9 in groceries for someone in need.

You can also volunteer for a food or fund drive, sort and pack food boxes, help at a garden or assist at an event. You will be helping our children and improving the future of your community.

Denise Townsend is a volunteer for the Quinn House, a Lawrenceville ministry that distributes food and addresses other unmet needs.

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