Battered economy, job woes emphasize importance of the social services

Published 7:55 am Sunday, March 8, 2009

Staff Writer
As the horrendous economy grinds its heel into North Carolina and the nation, some in Beaufort County are relying on local homeless shelters and soup kitchens to stave off despair.
But unlike major urban areas, where the homeless are visible, the needy in rural areas — such as Beaufort County — stay out of the public eye, said Susanna Birdsong, director of the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness.
And that in itself can have damaging effects.
Rob Harris, supervisor of the Interchurch Shelter and Kitchen in Washington, is concerned that many of these people are not getting the services they need.
The kitchen, located in the basement of the Metropolitan AME Zion Church, serves lunch at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. It’s open to a wide variety of people, including those with homes.
Many homeless in rural areas live in “double-up” situations, staying with relatives or friends, and may not appear homeless, Birdsong said.
This makes the kitchen’s services more important, Harris explained.
The shelter and kitchen opened in 1986 to help the needy and contribute to their rehabilitation, Harris said.
Initially, the shelter served as a temporary haven for homeless men to sleep while the Washington Area Interchurch Forum, which founded the shelter, worked to get them housed.
Through Supplemental Security Income, a federal program managed by the Social Security Administration that pays people monthly who are low income and 65 years or older, blind or disabled, the forum found permanent housing for most of the homeless men.
The shelter still provides lodging for up to 16 men, but its focus has shifted to helping the hungry.
With the downturn in the economy, the demand for food has increased at the kitchen.
Rhuberna McCloud, a community inclusion specialist with the Beaufort County Development Center (BCDC), has been working as a volunteer at the kitchen twice a week since November 2008. McCloud, who through the BCDC finds work for physically and mentally disabled individuals, has noticed an influx of people at the kitchen since then.
Edward Hardy said he has been coming to the kitchen every day since returning to Washington three years ago.
Hardy, 62, a native of Williamston, said the kitchen is one of his favorite places. He lives on West Fourth Street, but appreciates the daily meal he gets at the kitchen.
Harris said the most rewarding part of his job is seeing progress made by patrons of the shelter.
The shelter supervisor said he tries to set a good example.
Zion church Founder the Rev. David Moore wants to see services expanded at the shelter and throughout the community.
That’s where Options to Domestic Violence comes in. The shelter accepts women who are victims of domestic violence, and in some cases also offers shelter to their children.
But Options and the Interchurch Shelter are limited by space and strict guidelines in what they can do for the homeless.
And statistics being compiled by the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness suggest the number of homeless in the state is rising significantly.
Cherissa Foreman, a BCDC community inclusion specialist, has volunteered at the kitchen since August 2008. She said she tries to be mindful of how she treats others.
Cutline: Robert Harris, director of the Washington Area Interchurch Shelter and Kitchen, taste-tests a batch of spaghetti he prepared Thursday for the shelter’s daily lunch. Helping him is shelter volunteer Nora Sharperson. (WDN Photos/Paul Dunn)