Turns out, there is no tent city in Newton County.
Every now and then, a rumor will catch the wind and blow around town like that lawn sale sign you’ve seen a thousand times, a rumor that there is some big tent city somewhere around Covington, a congregation of homeless people living under scraps of plastic and tarps.
While the rumor has a kernel of truth, advocates for the homeless and Covington police said there is no large congregation. Homelessness in Newton County has become more acute since the recession started, and some homeless advocates said they may be more visible with the opening of a shelter, the Garden of Gethsemane on Turner Lake Circle, advocates and police said.
But there is no large congregation. Rod Myers, with Disciples Outreach Ministry, frequently goes into the wooded areas around the county with other volunteers to check on homeless people, following up on reports of a homeless person or checking up on a person they already found. He said there are “a handful,” or less than 10, scattered around the county who do live in makeshift tents.
Myers said he and the volunteers will talk to them a few minutes, tell them about the services around Newton County, such as the shelter, the Repairers of the Breach thrift store, ask them if they want help and leave military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). If they find a makeshift shelter, they will leave a note and an MRE.
The people he finds “aren’t mad at the world,” he said, and may or may not be receptive to help. Some are content to live as they are, while others are afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
“Sometimes you get, ‘I’m OK,’ and other times people come forward and tell you what they can use,” Myers said.
Myers said he did not want to disclose the location of the people he is aware of for fear they will either be run off or others will steal what little belongings they have.
Myers, who also volunteers with the Repairers of the Breach, said other ministries and organizations, such as Journey Church, Eastridge Community Church and the Salvation Army, help out.
Detective Daniel Seals, of the Covington Police Department, said he hears reports of tent cities in the area occasionally, but they usually turn out to be bogus.
“We usually hear reports about once a year, but they don’t come to us (with reports); they go to (newspapers),” Seals said.
Patrol officers sometimes come across a person living under a bridge or underpass or sometimes in a tent, but they have not found any large congregations or tent cities.
“You just make sure they’re healthy and not trespassing on anybody’s property,” Seals said. “We’ll check them out, not in a criminal style initially. We verify name, date of birth and that they’re not wanted. Generally they’re not. They come on hard times for whatever reason and that’s where they find themselves. We let them know there’s a homeless shelter in town. We’ve even gone as far as to assist them in getting there.”
Finding a homeless youngster or a family with a child is a different matter, though. In that situation, he said the Department of Family and Children’s Services must be notified and shelter must be found for the child or the family.