Many who are homeless walk a long, difficult road. Their journey is filled with hardship and challenges, and when each day begins anew they have little choice but to keep going.
Volunteers with the local nonprofit Saved By Grace, including its founders Maria Gamble and Donna Howard, aim to offer aid to homeless individuals and families in the area. And the nonprofit is now providing those important services from a new location, at 186 Cornerstone Drive in Brunswick.
The new center includes two shelter rooms where Saved By Grace can provide overnight lodging to those who qualify. They also have shower and laundry facilities for clients to use.
Rhema Community Church made the new location possible. The church approached Saved By Grace with an offer that the nonprofit make use of space on the church campus.
“It was move-in ready,” Gamble said.
Saved By Grace moved into the space earlier this year, and since then the church has also played a role in supplying volunteer support and other services for clients.
“They’ve been a big part of this,” Gamble said. “We’ve gotten volunteers from the church, they have fed our people, they’ve brought people dinner that have stayed in these rooms. They volunteer here at the office. They’ve just been a huge part of Saved By Grace.”
The new location has seen more foot traffic than their previous spot up the road. Many homeless individuals stay in that part of Glynn County, Gamble said.
But they’ve also had people walk from as far away as Altama Avenue, which on foot is a long trek.
Gamble and Howard have also recently tried to raise awareness of the daily challenges the homeless endure. One client, named Anthony, inspired them to make their own walk across town, to better understand what it would be like to walk in his shoes.
One man’s story
Anthony had just moved to Brunswick when the coronavirus pandemic began shuttering businesses, including the restaurant that had just hired him.
With no family support in the area and now no source of income, Anthony was unsure what he would do when he ran out of money and could no longer pay for the motel room in which he was staying.
“He knew that he didn’t have any more money to pay for a motel room and knew that he would be homeless, and so he reached out to us to try to get his unemployment check or figure out why it had not come to him,” Howard said.
She assured Anthony over the phone that they could help, and he told her he’d come to the office. Little did Gamble and Howard know, though, that he was walking from a motel nearly eight miles away.
Going to this great length to seek services is not uncommon for the homeless.
Clients often walk through Saved By Grace’s door and immediately crash on the office couch and chairs. They’re normally desperately thirsty and hungry, Howard said. Saved By Grace always has food and water available.
When Anthony arrived, Gamble and Howard set to work trying to help him navigate the state labor department website. While researching his options on the laptop though, Anthony became so dejected that he began to openly cry.
“I walked out here and the boy is literally just bent over in his chair, not working on the computer, but he was in tears, literally sobbing,” Howard said. “He was so hopeless.”
Anthony confessed he’d never been in this situation before. He wasn’t accustomed to asking for help, but he didn’t know what his next step forward could be.
Walking in their shoes
Anthony’s story inspired Gamble and Howard to make that same walk, from the motel on Altama to their center on New Jesup Highway, in order to bring attention to the extents that homeless individuals must go through to find help.
On a recent weekend, they set out on the 7.8-mile walk.
“While we were walking, of course our feet were hurting and our backs were killing us,” Howard said. “It was a beautiful Saturday. It wasn’t even hot.”
But the long walk, which took them three and a half hours to complete, opened their eyes more than they expected it would, Howard said.
“While walking we were discussing the fact that a lot of times people walk through the doors and they hope to get help. But there’s a lot of things that we can’t help with or whoever they are walking to, they can’t get help with,” she said. “So then they would have to turn around and walk back.”
The following couple of days, Gamble and Howard were extremely sore, and they continued to reflect upon what this experience must be like for those who endure it on a regular basis.
‘”We wore tennis shoes, and we had comfortable shoes,” Gamble said. “A lot of our people walk that barefoot, and a lot of people walk that in flip flops.”
Many are carrying heavy bags of belongings, Gamble said, and many have to sleep on the ground each night.
“I got to sleep in a bed,” she said.
Experiences like this are emotionally and physically draining, Howard said.
And while their walk had a clear beginning and end, this experience for the homeless is often just another difficult part of a long, seemingly endless journey of challenges.
“Walking that on an empty stomach, or walking that when you’re sick or just walking that when you’re in a depressive state and you’re just lost and you don’t know what’s coming next … Just like with Anthony, there was no assurance when he walked in our door that we were going to be able to help him,” Gamble said.
Saved By Grace has found, since its inception, that once community members know more about the plight of the homeless, many are eager to help.
Anthony stayed in Saved By Grace’s new emergency shelter space for four weeks. In that time, he was able to get three part-time jobs, through which he saved enough money to afford an extended motel stay as he returns to a more stable job.
“He moved out of here and he paid five weeks in advance at the motel,” Howard said.
One of those part-time jobs was with Rooks Automotive, whose owner saw a Saved By Grace Facebook post about Anthony’s story and offered him employment.
Much of Saved By Grace’s support comes through Facebook, where the nonprofit has a loyal following that will respond quickly to help meet the needs of the homeless.
Rhema Church’s support has allowed the nonprofit to offer the kind of temporary safe haven Gamble and Howard have long hoped to provide.
The new office is meant to be a calming space that can remind one of home. The smell of laundry permeates the building often, and words of affirmation are posted on walls in every room.
The office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Gamble and Howard are able to provide food, water, computer access, a shower, a washing machine and dryer and, for those who qualify, a place to spend the night.
“Those rooms have been huge for us,” Gamble said. “We’ve had families, we’ve had single moms with children, we’ve had a homeless veteran. We’ve had guys off the street that just want to come in and take a nap for a few hours.”
Called “The Refuge of Grace,” the rooms are meant to serve people who can stay there and look for a job or for better housing.
“We would like to see them gain at least one or two paychecks before they move on from here,” Gamble said. “Unfortunately, due to the lack of affordable housing, most are really only going to be able to move to a motel from here. But it’s better than living in your car or sleeping on the sidewalk.”
Saved By Grace plays a role in meeting people on their journey and offering the kind of comfort and support that will help clients take the necessary steps back to a life of stability. Many, like Anthony, admit to rarely being offered help.
“It’s so humbling to be in this position, to be able to help these guys when so many people have thrown them away, just kicked them to the curb,” Howard said.
Those wishing to support Saved By Grace can donate food and money or can volunteer with the organization. More information is available online at savedbygraceglynn.com or on the nonprofit’s Facebook page, “Saved By Grace SE Georgia.”