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Safe Harbour road trip highlights plight of homeless

Safe Harbour road trip highlights plight of homeless

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It'll be a whirlwind two weeks for two advocates working to end homelessness as they tour parts of the Deep South.

Pat LaMarche, vice president of the Carlisle homeless shelter Safe Harbour, and Diane Nilan, an advocate from Illinois, started off their road trip, dubbed the Southern (Dis)Comfort tour, of southern states Monday with a stop in Calhoun, Ga.

The women had planned to take a road trip in the fall to highlight homelessness that included stops in states along the eastern seaboard but an illness prevented LaMarche from going.

In Calhoun, the women were busy and met with representatives from area churches who want to provide a place where the homeless can call home, LaMarche said by phone from Georgia Monday.

"And we've met with a number of churches contemplating (starting) a homeless shelter," she said.

Currently, LaMarche said, there is a homeless shelter in the town but those who want to stay there have to pay a fee.

She compared the rates the shelter charges to those found at hotels. In recent years, the residents of Calhoun have felt the affects of the sluggish economy. Located in the northwest corner of Georgia, Calhoun had a population of 13,570 in 2005.

"Since the economic crunch, they've consistently had (a) 10 percent (unemployment rate)," LaMarche said.

That is one of the reasons the churches hope to get the shelter up and running, she added.

‘Related by circumstances'

LaMarche and Nilan were able to met two homeless men affected by the economy.

One man, who told the women his name is Dan, set up a squatters homestead in a wooded area near a hotel in Calhoun.

Though Dan, who LaMarche estimated to be in his 40s, is the only person who lives there permanently, he told the women other people also set up camp there from time to time.

Dan had been employed at one the town's plants, LaMarche said, but had lost his job and works at a golf course at times.

The bicycle he uses get around has a flat tire but despite that burden, and the hardships that comes with being homeless, all Dan wants is job, LaMarche said he told her.

With steady work comes a pay check that will lead to a home and that new bike tire.

"He just wants a job," LaMarche said.

The women also met a 24-year-old homeless man named Shawn who is living at the nearby hotel, where the owner helps the homeless by putting them up in rooms, LaMarche said.

Dan and Shawn were likely perfect strangers before homelessness brought them together. Now, LaMarche said, they are "related by circumstances."

A lot to offer

From Calhoun, the women, who are making their trek in Nilan's RV, will head north to Asheville, N.C. where they will met with the city's mayor.

After a few more days in the Carolinas, the RV, which Nilan named Tillie the Turtle, will head back south to the Florida before turning west toward the Gulf states.

Over the past couple of years, the Gulf states have been devastated by natural and man-made disasters.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through the area in 2005, the states, like others in the country, were hit hard by the poor economy and most recently, the BP oil spill affected a number of industries there.

Residents, LaMarche said, have witnessed a lot and she wants to see how they are coping.

"I'm dying to get to the Gulf states," she said.

Despite only being on the trip for a day, LaMarche said she's already come to realize all that Cumberland County offers its less fortunate residents.

While churches in Calhoun are considering starting a homeless shelter, Cumberland County already has a number of them up and running.

Organizations and residents here, LaMarche said, are proactive when it comes facing problems such as homelessness.

"We're not struggling with the fact that there are homeless people," she said.

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For more information about Pat LaMarche's and Diane Nilan's Southern (Dis)Comfort road trip and for updates, check out www.facebook.com/EPICJo…

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