By CHARLOTTE RODINA
According to the Fredericksburg Regional Continuum of Care Point-in-Time count, homelessness in Fredericksburg increased by 89 percent from 2007 to 2011.
The Micah Ecumenical Ministries deals with homelessness in Fredericksburg, as well as the Thurman Brisben Center, the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, many churches, and a few other shelters.
Despite the good heartedness associated with the Micah center and the other organizations, these facilities have been blamed by local businesses for attracting the poverty stricken to the area.
The Micah center, located on Princess Anne Street, is a “relationship based ministry” providing help to the homeless. The organization formed in 2005.
Lori Yelverton, leader of programs at Micah, said the organization “provides food, clothing, shower facilities, laundry rooms, mail service and a respite house.”
According to a USA Today survey, homelessness has been increasing across the whole nation, due to “economic pressures, including mortgage foreclosures.”
As spring begins, cold weather shelters in the area close down. Homeless populations are beginning to assemble outside, such as Ron Garrison on Caroline Street.
Garrison looks a bit out of place in his bulky winter clothes in 70 degree weather.
Garrison said, “This jacket is just what I need. It keeps me warm and it’s puffy and good for sleepin’ on.”
A warm outfit is vital come dusk when Garrison will spend the night in a forested area along the Rappahannock.
Joni Lewis, owner of Visual Treats in downtown Fredericksburg, says that the growing homeless population has affected her business. Once a week, a congregation of homeless individuals waits outside of a church in the alley next to Lewis’ shop.
“I don’t open on Sundays now. Homelessness is a heartbreak, but it is not good for business,” Lewis says.
While the increasing homeless populations in the city bother some businesses, others do not mind.
Glenn Jenkins, operations manager at Fredericksburg Transit Center (FRED central) said that, “Disruption from the homeless on buses is minimal. They just use the buses to get where they need to go.”
Although homelessness is on the rise as a general trend in most U.S. cities, the Micah center faces the problem head on.
“Most people don’t know that we not only provide food and clothing, but we help the homeless to get back on their feet. We help them to find supportive housing and employment,” said Yelverton.
Executive Director of Micah Meghann Cotter said, “In 2008 Micah helped find homes for 106 different people. Less than 10 percent of them returned to homelessness.”
The Point-in-Time records show that of the less than one percent of homeless people in Fredericksburg are in the city because of the community services provided for the homeless. Nineteen percent are in the area because they were born in Fredericksburg and 41 percent are in the city because they have family close by.
Garrison is in the less than one percent.
“I’ll look for a job tomorrow. I decided to chill today,” he said.
Garrison wanders off in his worn shoes to the Micah Center, enticed by free canned corn and shoes, planning to spend another night in the woods of Fredericksburg.