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Posted: September 17, 2013 9:10 p.m.

Homeless shelter out of funding

Ramsey asks council for ideas on funds

Covington’s homeless shelter continues to operate on the verge of shutting down, with only $153 in the bank, more than $1,000 in outstanding bills, and a likely $4,000-plus utility bill coming due this month, shelter board member Sam Ramsey told the Covington City Council Monday night.

However, Ramsey wasn’t asking the city council for financial help. The city and the Covington Housing Authority, the shelter’s landlord, cannot donate money directly and have helped to reduce costs; Ramsey was seeking ideas and help raising money.

Ramsey said the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter has bills due and hasn’t been able to pay the shelter’s director, the Rev. Clara Lett, anything this year. He said the shelter is basically $18,259 in debt, including:

• $100 bill for pest control

• $358. 21 for financial services

• $35.37 for Crystal Springs bottled water

• $65.99 for Direct TV

• $60 owed to the Newton County Tax Commissioner’s Office

• $339.66 for State Farm Insurance

• $500 monthly rent to Covington Housing Authority

• $16,800 in back salary for Clara Lett ($1,400 a month)

Ramsey said he’s basically asking the community where it wants "to go with this thing," because the shelter has been running on a shoestring budget well below the $9,000–$10,000 per month budget it needs to effectively operate.

He also went to Rockdale County to ask officials there for funding, since people from Rockdale and other surrounding counties also stay at the shelter. Lett said Tuesday the shelter has seen fewer residents this year, in part because, for a period of time, it stopped accepting Rockdale residents, since no organizations in the county were providing any support. Lett said the issue was recently worked out as organizations realized the difficulty of not being able to refer residents to the Covington homeless shelter. There are 23 people staying at the shelter currently, well below last year, when almost 80 people were staying there, Ramsey said.

Ramsey said the shelter has seen a lot of community support in terms of food donations and volunteer efforts, as well as some church contributions, but donations aren’t high enough on a consistent basis. One issue is that the shelter has not received any state grants for the past few years, though it did previously.

Ramsey thanked the city and other groups for their help, including:

• Covington agreeing to put the shelter on residential electricity rates, which are less expensive than commercial electricity rates.

• The housing authority installing a $4,800 air conditioning unit to keep the kitchen cool enough to cook in and only charging $500 in rent a month.

• The Covington Police Dept. donating $6,000 of Fuzz Run proceeds to pay rent.

• General Mills donating $10,000.

Ramsey also personally installed an air conditioner in the office area.

Ramsey said Oxford resident Erik Oliver has done some grant writing for the city, but no grants have yet been received, including money from Georgia, as there’s little money available. The shelter also has no money for grants that require matching funds.

Last fall, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston personally solicited money for the shelter after it was past due on utility payments and suggested a revised organizational structure with a more involved board committed to raising funds and additional volunteers seeking out grants. Former board member the Rev. Sam Perryman said at the time the board would work on improving its structure and didn’t have any questions about the shelter’s finances or its management under Lett.

Much of the board has changed, Ramsey said, and he believes it is heading in the right direction, but getting the shelter in the black is "just a mammoth job."

According to Lett, new board members are Oliver, Sharon Sawyer, Jean Jensen and Elliot Roth. Jane Ballard may also join the board. Holdover members are Ramsey, Winston Williams, chair Doug Doster and treasurer Cheryl Heard.

Johnston asked Ramsey what would happen to the shelter’s residents if it had to close. Ramsey said he didn’t know, but said some might go to the square to sleep. Lett said Tuesday some residents might be placed in other shelters, but others would be left to stay on the streets.

"I don’t believe God will allow that to happen, but if it did, that would be reality; I think (it) would be a sad day in Newton County and other counties, too," said Lett, who added that the shelter is about 15 years old and has "seen some hard and tough times, but I believe (God) will continue to have his hand on our ministry and provide."

Lett said she hasn’t asked for her salary because running the shelter is a calling she’s committed to.

"There are still some folks in the community who don’t know we have a shelter; maybe it’s because we haven’t operated like other shelters, with people lying out in the parking lot and in cars. Our structure is so good some people don’t even know we’re here."

The shelter is at 7133 Turner Lake Circle in Covington. Though money is the current critical need, Lett said the shelter can also always use volunteers, particularly to help prepare meals, and supplies, including soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and paper products.

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