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Discomfort road trip
Pat LaMarche, vice president of community affairs at Safe Harbour, and Diane Nilan, founder of HEAR US, pose for a photograph last week in Georgia.

So far, Pat LaMarche has met the downtrodden and those who are working to bring about a change in how their communities help their homeless populations.

Understandably, "the homeless conversation is a buzz-kill," she said Monday from Florida.

But there are people out there - "neighbors helping neighbors," as she calls it - who have become engaged in the conversation and committed themselves to helping the hungry and the homeless.

LaMarche, vice president of community affairs at Carlisle's Safe Harbour, and Diane Nilan, founder of HEAR US, have for the past week been on a trip to the southern states to raise awareness of homelessness.

"There's a lot of good-natured people," LaMarche said.

But sometimes, she added, that good-naturedness is met with apprehension or even subversions.

In Gainesville, Fla., a soup kitchen and homeless shelter stand ready to serve the hungry. However, a city regulation forbids the St. Francis House from serving more than 130 meals a day.

If there is food leftover after serving 130 people and volunteers are willing to stay and continue to serve food on any particular day, it doesn't matter. The leftover food is chucked into the trash bin and volunteers are dismissed, LaMarche said.

The Gainesville Sun reported in July that a city commissioner explained that the limit was in place to keep the homeless from concentrating in that part of town.

On the road

More than a week into their journey, LaMarche and Nilan have been up and down parts of the East Coast and have now turned Nilan's RV west toward the Gulf states.

"I can't imagine doing this trip even 10 years ago. Not without GPS," LaMarche said.

All told, the trip, dubbed the Southern (Dis)Comfort tour, will take the women to seven states and will put a thousand or two miles on the RV. At nights, the women camp out in the RV at campsites or in store parking lots.

"Everything's gone pretty smooth," LaMarche said of the trip. "It's been great."

The trip began last Sunday in Atlanta and is expected to end in the same city Saturday.

During a scheduled stop in Tallahassee, Fla., the women showed Nilan's latest documentary, "On the Edge," to a room filled of homeless people.

That was an emotional screening, LaMarche said.

The film examines the causes and consequences of homelessness through the eyes of those affected by it.

During the screening, a number of those watching began to cry, LaMarche said.

For the homeless viewing the film, she added, it was likely like watching a near mirror image of their own lives on the screen.

"You know they're also crying for how similar their lives are," she said.

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