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Pat LaMarche
Pat LaMarche recently returned from her trip to the south to spread awareness of homelessness.

If Pat LaMarche could have taken anything with her on her trip to the South, it would have been jobs.

Many of the homeless men and women she met on her Southern (Dis)Comfort tour wanted a job more than anything else.

"You just wish you were going through those settings with jobs," Safe Habour's vice president of community affairs said. A job, she added, would be a way out of homelessness.

The two-week trip wrapped up Sunday and included stops in a number of cities in towns scattered across the south.

During stops, LaMarche and her road companion, Diane Nilan, founder of the Illinois-based HEAR US, met with both the homeless and those who are working to ease the burdens the homeless face.

In Calhoun, Ga., the women met with representatives from area churches who want to provide a place where the homeless can call home, LaMarche said.

There is a homeless shelter in the town, she added, but those who want to stay there have to pay a fee.

In another town, LaMarche and Nilan toured a shelter that they said seemed to be out of a movie.

Those who spend the night are ushered into a large room with mattresses and are locked in, LaMarche said.

"You wouldn't believe people are expected to live that way," she said.

In an effort to stave off theft and drug dealing, prescription medications have to be turned in to a shelter employee who then doles out the pills. That could create a hosts of problems, LaMarche said.

For example, what if the employee accidently mixes up the prescriptions and gives a pill to the wrong person?

"They're really in a bind," LaMarche said.

New ideas

While the women saw what may be the worst in the way of shelters, LaMarche said, she also came away from the trip with some good ideas.

In Birmingham, Ala., the women attended a session where homeless teens gave personal accounts of their lives.

"They really told it like it is," LaMarche said.

She added she'd like to hold a similar event in Carlisle.

Another idea that impressed LaMarche was a shelter used solely for young adults in the Alabama city. It is for those ages 19 to 26 and aims to get clients out of homelessness by helping them pursue job training.

"That was really great," she said.

At most shelters, a person in that age group would be placed with people much older and "wiser" than them, LaMarche said. That, she added, could cause the younger person to pick up bad habits.

‘Positive trip'

Wendell Hollinger, executive director of Safe Harbour, said he expected LaMarche to bring back new ideas and insights from shelters she visited.

"You learn a lot from others," he said. "Obviously it was a very positive trip to get out there and advocate for the homeless population."

One the lower points of the trip, LaMarche said, was during a showing of Nilan's latest documentary, "On the Edge" that was attended by homeless people. The film examines the causes and consequences of homelessness through the eyes of those affected by it.

During the Tallahassee, Fla., screening, a number of people in the audience began to weep, LaMarche said. They were likely crying for the people in the documentary, but also for another reason.

"But they were crying for themselves, too," LaMarche said. "Seeing those people was probably the toughest part (of the trip.)"

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