Homeless women and children in Augusta have nowhere to turn

Homeless shelters
As homeless shelters in the area are filling up, there are less places for mothers and their children to turn to for help. (WRDW-TV / Jan. 21, 2012)
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News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, Jan. 20, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga -- Organizations helping the homeless are realizing one of their worst fears.

"It's the hardest thing in the world to turn anybody away," said Fran Oliver, director of Mercy Ministries.

Places like these are having to turn away homeless women and children, which Oliver says is the largest growing population of homelessness in America.

"We're having to answer the phone to these ladies that are in desperate need," said Keith Pope, who runs Garden City Rescue mission.

Pope explained the waiting list currently has at least 40 names on it -- at this time last year, there were only 25 to 30 names.

Garden City Rescue Mission's beds are arranged in an open manner. There isn't a lot of privacy, which makes it difficult to provide shelter for women and children.

"You get into mixing a 10 to 12-year-old boy with a 4 to 6-year-old girl, or with the women changing and things like that. We're just not set up where we can house [children] over 6," Pope said.

Pope says many shelters are arranged like his, which means space for women and children are limited.

"There's a situation and an issue there that we need more shelters for the women and children," he said.

The floor plan isn't the only problem. Sure, that may limit space for women and children, but the economy creates a double-edged sword for Garden City Rescue Mission.

Right now, they're only serving about half the women they would like to.

"The economy not only affects the families to where they need us more, but it also affects our donations. If we don't have donations, then we can't hire staff," Pope explained.

If they can't hire staff, then they can't serve as many people, but some say the problem is much deeper than staffing and money.

"The beds are just not here in Augusta," Oliver said.

That's why she is trying to turn a space recently acquired by Mercy Ministries into a women's and children's shelter. She's in the early stages of developing the property on 15th Street, but Oliver says she's going to need the approval of the city and the support of the community.