Published On: Fri, Mar 7th, 2014

A beacon for the homeless

The homeless are strangely invisible in the average community. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance not a permanent condition. A more appropriate measure of the magnitude of homelessness is the number of people who experience homelessness over time, not the number of “homeless people.” The Council for Affordable and Rural Housing estimates that about nine percent of the nation’s homeless are in rural areas. Many are forced to live with relatives and friends in crowded, temporary arrangements. People in these situations are experiencing homelessness, but are less likely to be counted. For instance, of the children and youth identified as homeless by the Department of Education, only 35 percent lived in shelters; 34 percent lived doubled-up with family or friends, and 23 percent lived in motels and other locations. Yet, these children and youth may not immediately be recognized as homeless and are sometimes denied access to shelters. Another group of people, often referred to as “the unsheltered” or “hidden” homeless, frequently stay in automobiles, camp grounds, or other places that researchers cannot effectively search.

Helping people in crisis situations has always been Walter Lockhart’s greatest motivator. Lockhart, the former executive director of the American Red Cross Greenbrier Valley Chapter, is well known for his dedication and commitment to helping people in need. After his retirement from the Red Cross in 2011, Lockhart searched around long and hard for a way to continue his commitment to helping others. The result was Homeless, Inc., a nonprofit homeless charity based in Lewisburg, which got off the ground in December of 2011.

“The time has come for me to go strictly to a volunteer basis,” Lockhart said at the time of his retirement.

By early 2012, Lockhart’s “retirement project” received its 501-3 nonprofit designation. Soon with the assistance of his wife Francine as treasurer and Robert Clark as secretary, and a few volunteers, Homeless, Inc. was up and running with 100 percent of all proceeds going to provide the homeless with lodging, food, clothing and so much more. At the close of 2013 the organization had helped more than 4,000 people and did almost $30,000 in recovery work.

The way it works, Lockhart said, is when a county, state or city law enforcement officer is notified via 9-1-1 or through Homeless Direct at 304-645-7880 that someone is in need, Lockhart is contacted. The only requirements he asks is to know the person’s name, how to get in touch with them, and whether they have had assistance from Homeless, Inc. before. Decisions on most individuals take only two minutes. Homeless, Inc. receives anywhere between five to ten calls a day asking for help.

“We listen to their stories and focus our help on the most critical areas.” Lockhart says. Children come first, and then women.

The Summary of Assists for January 2014 are as follows: Lodging for 10 people: $266.40. Rent assist for two people: $50. Food expenses for 29 people: $826.72. Med/Pharm expenses for one person: $5. Gas/Transportation for 23 persons: $246.16. Misc/Kerosene for 13 people: $317.78.

Total assistance given: $1,545.74. Total number of people assisted: 39. Average assistance per person: $39.63.

Homeless, Inc. offers services designed to help individuals and families in crisis. Volunteers provide lodging, meals, and clothing for the homeless, lost, and abused, as well as transportation for employment and medical assistance. Fund sourcing (a full-time job in itself) has netted grants which have come through with as little as $250 and up to $15,000, and is bolstered by personal donations from generous community members. All donations big and small are welcome. Homeless, Inc. has contracts with motels and restaurants throughout the region to provide assistance with food and lodging when needed. They also provides transportation for veterans when state vehicles are not available, as well as for medical treatment, new housing areas (to live with friends or family) and employment. When funding is not available for immediate homeless assistance, Homeless, Inc. transports clients to Beckley or Covington shelters when not full.

If you’d like to help someone in need by supporting Homeless, Inc. of Lewisburg, they can be reached at 877-0478 5718. To learn more about this local nonprofit homeless charity, go to their website at homelessinc.org.