Emergency shelter money on the way

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2004

United States Senator Richard Shelby helped Alabama receive over $33 million in federal funds with $1.4 million of that money going to help build emergency shelters for the homeless. The $1.4 million is in the form of an Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) funds.

“I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs has dedicated these funds to improve economic and housing opportunities for many Alabamains. I am hopeful Alabama’s low-income families will see a tremendous benefit from these grants,” Shelby said.

He said that the grant would help local communities to meet the basic shelter needs of homeless individuals and families. He also said these grants also provide transitional housing and a variety of support services designed to move the homeless away from a life on the street toward permanent housing.

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“This block grant program, in concert with more than $1 billion HUD awards by competition, helps thousands of local homeless assistance programs to help those who would otherwise call the streets their home,” Shelby said.

Within the Demopolis Times’ five county coverage area, which includes Marengo, Hale, Sumter, Greene, and Perry counties not a single one of these counties have adequate faculties to house the homeless population of this region from any kind of dangerous situation- freezing cold, starvation, thunderstorms, tornadoes.

In Perry County, there isn’t a shelter of any type, but what they do have involves taking a trip to the local police station. Although the city of Uniontown doesn’t have a shelter for the homeless, they will let the homeless stay in the auditorium at the police station so they can stay warm.

Over in Sumter County, things aren’t any better. Their idea of a homeless shelter is the basement of the local EMA office according to Margaret Bishop, Sumter County Emergency Management Agency Director.

“We don’t have any homeless shelters in Livingston, all we have is the basement at the EMA office that we let them use during bad weather,” Bishop said.

Livingston has some local churches that help in the fight against homelessness.

“There are some local church groups in Livingston that help the homeless, but I don’t know who they are,” Bishop said.

Two counties down and three to go and not one of these counties have a shelter for the homeless.

In Greene County, there isn’t anywhere for the homeless to stay. No shelters or soup kitchens or nothing is in Eutaw for these people. Some local churches offer shelter during bad weather, but that’s it.

In Hale County, they don’t have a shelter, but at least someone will take them to a Red Cross shelter were they can get some help.

“We don’t have the faculties to house the homeless. Sometimes we will provide them with a ride to the Red Cross shelter in Tuscaloosa,” said Russell Weeden, Hale County EMA Director.

Hale County also has some local groups that will help from time to time with the homeless.

Finally in Marengo County, there isn’t a shelter here either. What is here is the Demopolis Civic Center that can be used for bad weather situations. But, other than the Civic Center there isn’t a real shelter for the homeless.

“No one has a shelter of any kind,” said Sylvan Mutschler, former EMA Director for Marengo County.

The reason we don’t have any homeless shelters in this area is due to one thing. The weather never really gets cold enough here to justify having one.

“In Alaska, there was a real problem with cold weather. They had some of the best shelters that provided 120 beds and three meals a day for the homeless,” Mutschler said.

So, out of five counties in West Alabama, there isn’t a single shelter where the homeless can stay and not have to worry about starving to death or being freezing cold.