help for the homeless

Honey Sparre, outreach case manager for Gateway Behavioral Health Services’ new Street Outreach Homeless Assistance program, discusses the new program with Jeff Blackman during a meal at HIS Ministries in Brunswick.

Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News

He lived in a car with his pregnant wife and two small children. He had about $2 in his wallet, no food and only two bottles of milk for their toddler.

Then Gateway Behavioral Health Services stepped in to help.

Through its new program, called Street Outreach Homeless Assistance, Gateway workers found the family a hotel room and began working closely with them to find permanent housing.

“I called him, we put him in a hotel, and it was very emotional … because he’d never accepted help before,” said Honey Sparre, the outreach case manager for the program.

Gateway started the Street Outreach Homeless Assistance program at the end of September. Gateway is a Brunswick-based Community Service Board created by the state in 1993 serving people with addictive diseases, developmental disabilities and mental illness. Through the outreach program, Gateway workers reach out to Glynn County’s homeless and connect them to available resources in the community. The end goal is to find their clients a place to call home.

Sparre works one-on-one with each client, assessing their needs on an individual basis.

The program is funded by an emergency solutions grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Through the grant, Gateway can place homeless citizens or families in a hotel or motel for up to 30 days, while Sparre works with them to help find a permanent living situation.

“It allows us to put a homeless person in a hotel for up to 30 days while Honey’s working with them on getting a job, if they don’t have a job or disability or other income benefits that they would quality for,” said Katie Hagin, the permanent supportive housing manager at Gateway and supervisor of the outreach program. “If they do have a job or benefits already, (she’ll help them with) budgeting their money.”

Everyone in the program takes a “Ready to Rent” course at Gateway, which guides them through the process of finding a home, budgeting money and learning how to be good renters and neighbors.

“We’re basically trying to educate them on how to be a good renter and how to be able to budget their money and sustain their own household,” Hagin said.

Each client also has access to available wrap around services at Gateway, including counseling for substance abuse and mental health.

Community organizations — including The Well, the Salvation Army and HIS Ministries — have already rallied behind the program, Hagin said, by coming together to tackle homelessness in Glynn County.

“These agencies offer different resources that we don’t have,” she said. “Some of them will be able to pay security deposits and first month’s rent. Some of them may be able to pay utility deposits to help us get these people started in their own household.”

With her very first client in the new program, though, Sparre realized they’d need to do more than provide a hotel room and a class on house rental and personal budgets.

When the man living in his car with his pregnant wife and two children let it slip to Sparre that he only had about $2, she knew leaving his family at the hotel with no food wasn’t an option. So the Gateway workers went grocery shopping and brought microwavable meals and other food supplies back to the family.

“I called him before he left work, and he said ‘I didn’t ask you to do that, you didn’t have to do that,’” Sparre said. “He said ‘You’ve done more for my family right now than I could ever repay y’all for.’”

Gateway has since started an internal food drive, to collect items for the clients served by the outreach program. Hagin said community members are welcome to donate.

“We provided them with the groceries, because we’re not just going to put them in a hotel and say ‘Here you go, be hungry,’” she said. “If we’re placing homeless people directly from the street into a hotel, that’s going to be a common occurrence.”

The program aims to get clients back on their feet, so Hagin said Gateway will also provide them with any of its other services.

“If they come in our clinic and they’re wiling and want the help, we have supportive employment, which is a program that helps them get and maintain a job,” she said. “We have case management, just to give them some accountability.”

Those services will continue, even after their 30-day stay in the hotel.

Other organizations have to refer clients to Gateway, Hagin said.

“All of our community partners that we work with — The Well, HIS Ministries, any other agencies we work with — most of them have Honey’s direct number and will call her and say ‘I’ve got somebody in my office now or somebody that I want to refer to you that would be great for your program,” she said.

There’s a screening process, Sparre said, and clients must meet certain criteria.

Both Hagin and Sparre said they’ve never seen the community together like this to provide aid to Glynn County’s homeless.

“We all have different resources, so the best way to serve our homeless community is to pool our resources together,” Hagin said. “Up until now, it really hasn’t been done. Everybody’s just kind of made referrals here and referrals there.”

In her 20 years working in social services, Sparre said this is the first time she’s seen a program unite nonprofits this way.

“I’m really proud about how the community’s come together,” she said.

Anyone wishing to donate or offer support to the program can call 912-289-2451.