Area homeless shelter provides a lifeline to women and children

Pristine white cribs stand empty and waiting in quiet rooms painted a soothing azure. A walk-in closet stocks Huggies diapers and wipes, Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and row after row of tiny little outfits, as well as adult-sized pants and shirts. Yellow ducks adorn a bathroom that has never been used to clean chubby baby cheeks.

Sadly, it won’t be used until the Garden City Rescue Mission raises another $20,000 to install two fire escapes. In the meantime, mothers with young children may be literally left out in the cold. The Fenwick Street homeless shelter recently renovated the second floor of its building to house up to 50 families. Work on the homeless shelter for women and children is 95 percent complete. The paint is dry and beds have been donated, but so far they sit assembled and awaiting sleepy little heads.

“The sad fact is that sometimes [homeless families] are stuffed in the backseat of their car, or wherever,” Sharpe said. “There’s really no place other than the Salvation Army for them to go and if you talk to them they’ll tell you they’re overrun and they can’t keep up with the demand.”

In a push to finish those fire escapes before a potentially lethal cold snap, the  Garden City Rescue Mission will hold a Fall Fish Fry on Friday, Oct. 7, at Victory Baptist Church in Belvedere, sponsored by Dye’s Southern Catering.

“There’s going to be a lot of hauling children around,” Sharpe said, describing the shelter. “It’s going to cost a lot to run.”

Sharpe estimates that 15 to 20 bunk beds and 15 additional twin beds will just cover their sleeping quarters, but to help these ladies get back on their feet, they’ll need mini vans, car seats and operating expenses to help mothers find jobs, visit pediatricians and attend church. They are already feeling the pinch. The shelter’s electricity bill has jumped $800 a month because of the extra space, and Sharpe expects the center’s other utilities to double.

Sharpe’s mother, Susie, and her husband left good jobs with health insurance in Florida to come up and work with their son on his ministry. The children she sees break her heart. She tells a story of a woman so poor that her children had never owned a book or a toy.

“They didn’t even have an old dirty truck to push in the dirt,” she said. “These children had never been read a Bible story or a bedtime story.”

When she agreed to come up, she insisted on a playroom for the children, and it is almost done. VeggieTails toys sit in their boxes and children’s books yearn for sticky fingers to turn their pages. The playroom is Susie’s baby. It waits for other babies to fill it with laughter. There will be no shortage. Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population — 33 percent of the homeless, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Domestic violence is to blame for half of that.

Tile and new carpet were installed by one of the gentlemen currently housed in the men’s shelter on the bottom floor of the facility. Many of the men who live in the shelter are skilled workers, the “working homeless,” who comprise 15 percent of the homeless population. Some of them have been through painful divorces. Others have had a run of bad luck.

Their stories are not too much different than the American story. As the availability of affordable housing declines, shelter becomes harder to maintain. One estimate by the Federal Housing Authority states that one quarter of American workers are a single paycheck away from financial disaster.

Travis used all of his creativity and connections to complete the work, calling upon skilled friends and family members and asking for help while guest preaching at churches around the Southeast. He has been largely successful. One North Carolina congregation cut him a check before the services were even over on the day he gave his sermon.

The mission has paid for work as the project progressed, instead of going into debt. Volunteers donated time, materials and labor to complete most of the work. But work remains, and that’s what makes the fish fry so important.

The menu will include catfish filets, fries, cole slaw, hush puppies, grits and banana pudding, all catered by Dye’s Southern Catering. There is no per-plate charge to eat the fresh, fabulous fish, but donations will be accepted during the dinner.

“We’ve had people use the fish fry as an excuse to give significant donations — $500, $1,000,” Sharpe said.

But if you can’t attend the fish fry and still want to help, the mission has an ongoing need for everyday items such as crib sheets and baby blankets, toiletries, cleaning supplies, dry goods, furniture — and, of course, cash and manpower.

“Think about running a shelter of this type,” Susie said. “You need someone here 24 hours a day.”

The Fall Fish Fry will be at noon Saturday, Oct. 7, on the Camp Meeting Grounds of Victory Baptist Church off Belvedere-Clearwater Road in Belvedere, S.C. The Garden City Rescue Mission is located at 828 Fenwick St. in downtown Augusta. Call 706-724-6960 or visit gardencityrescuemission.com.

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