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A place to call home
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Winter is coming.

It’s that time of year where some folks are need of aid more than most, for people whose voices usually fall on deaf ears — where many homeless bodies shiver, with no place to go, — alone in the cold.

With no place to call home.

Revered Clara Lett, of the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter for Rockdale and Newton County, wants to ease the pain of those who suffer on the cold streets.

“There’s a woman,” Lett said, “in here late-to-mid-50s, maybe her early 60s, and I’m going to check on her right now as we speak … She’s in her 60s … and she’s been sleeping down by the river. In her 60s.”

And situations like Lett’s, going to check on a local homeless woman with no place to go, is just another day of her mission, to help those who have been forgotten.

“We get a lot of old people in their 70s, 80s,” she said. “And no one wants to take care of them. We get a lot of elderly people … the winter is coming. And she needs to keep warm.”

The reverend pauses for a moment during the interview.

“She’s a lady by herself, alone, by that river,” Lett said.

Rev. Lett believes the state’s counties need to take more responsibility with elderly care.

“What we really need is housing,” she said, “especially for the elderly. The elderly shouldn’t have to sleep on the streets and in abandoned buildings. They shouldn’t live in pain the remainder of their days, they should be in some type of home.”

And like most things that require action, the need for money is usually waiting around the corner. Luckily, and surprisingly for Rev. Lett, she was bestowed a $5,000 anonymous check at the Kiwanis Club, in Covington, Ga., in early October 2014.

“I was speaking to the club and the check was presented to the shelter,” Lett said.

And a second anonymous donation of $1,000 was donated a week later. But as the temperature changes, the utility bills do as well — and staying open is still a constant struggle for the shelter.

“The biggest issue we have is getting our utility bills paid,” said Sam Ramsey, former Covington Mayor and Board member of the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter. “We should be helped being funded by the state … but you have to heavily rely on donations from churches and members of the community.”

In 2007, when Ramsey was elected mayor, he said the state was to fund the shelter with $40,000 in state-funded aid for the shelter. But due to the shelter’s location in a residential zone at the time, it was went against state funding regulations. And changing locations took time.

“When 2008 came along the economy turned down,” he said. “It was 2009 when we actually got into the location where we are now.”

And Ramsey had persisted in finding funds for the shelter.

“When I called the state in 2009 and said, ‘You promised us $40,000,’” he said, “We haven’t heard from them yet.”
Ramsey said the state’s financial hands are tied due to insufficient funding. And on a city-level, funding for the shelter isn’t an option — aside from government reimbursement for the early-release program. So most people’s stay at the shelter is on a limited basis.

“There’s the transition Georgia reentrance program for those who exit out of prison and stay for 90 days,” Lett said. “It’s a 30-day stay … that’s the emergency … unless they’re in the program, and that’s different.”

Ramsey would like to see local church involvement with the shelter to raise funds for the upcoming winter and day-to-day repairs and utilities.

“If church groups could look at this as a local mission project,” he said, “and help the situation. Every church on the county could get together.”

Volunteer and Minister Louise Chatman has been working at the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter for two months. And she knows first-hand the necessity of the shelter — and the good it can provide to those in need.
“We try to make people comfortable,” Chatman said. “We feed them three meals a day … just the basic needs for a human being to make them as comfortable as possible — that’s what we strive to do.”

Regularly, Rev. Lett said the shelter gets about 87 volunteers that give their time. And aside from volunteer help, and her thoughts about county involvement with private organizations, “We need blankets and pillows,” she said.

Minister Chatman said the most difficult thing about working with the homeless is trying to get them acclimated to semi-normal life.

“Basically just trying to get them back on their feet,” she said. “It can be hard for them to be stabilized … and get back to work.”

And Minister Chatman urges the community to lend a helping hand, financial or not, as the temperature cools and the options of warmth decrease.

But money won’t hurt, she said.

“You recognize that people fall on hard times,” Chatman said. “It could be me, it could be you. We just got to give them the capacity to obtain a normal life … and sometimes with what we do, you have to put out the money, it’s what you have to do.”