Just a few months after moving to Mooresville, Georgia Theriot lost her job.
An Air Force veteran who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and who is accompanied by a service dog, she struggled to find work after being laid off by a 3-D printing company. So she started volunteering at a soup kitchen in town, taken aback by the number of people living in poverty.
The need here, Theriot discovered, is “incredible.”
Her financial situation has since improved. She ended up finding another job, with an insurance company, and she is no longer having to take dozens of prescription drugs for her PTSD symptoms.
Yet Theriot, 50, has not turned her attention away from the impoverished: She is serving on an advisory board of a recently formed nonprofit that is moving to open an emergency shelter in town for the homeless.
Hope of Mooresville is trying to raise money to buy a house that would serve as an overnight shelter for women and children. The group hopes to open it before winter, housing 10 to 15 beds.
The goal is to open a larger facility in three years or so that would also house homeless men, veterans and families, connecting them to services such as medical assistance and mental health counseling. Length of stays would depend on the condition of each person.
“We want to treat the whole person,” said Amy DeCaron, co-chair of the group, which is seeking to raise an additional $135,000 in the next three months. Since announcing its fundraising effort at a local church last fall, the group’s largest donation came over the past month – $100,000 – from a benefactor in the faith community, she noted.
Iredell County is home to its share of homeless people, including many transients.
Homelessness is caused by various factors, from substance abuse to generational and situational poverty to a lack of job skills. Among homeless women, a history of domestic violence is common.
A major cause is mental illness, said Patti West, executive director of Fifth Street Ministries, a homeless shelter system in Statesville. She called it an “overwhelming issue,” saying that in some cases, mentally ill people cannot access adequate medical assistance or that their families are unable to care for them. Moreover, she cited a lack of case managers to help those seeking housing.
“There are a lot of expectations” for the mentally ill, she said.
Fifth Street Ministries is the only shelter system in the county; it includes emergency beds and transitional housing programs.
It regularly operates at capacity, West said. While it may have open beds some nights, it receives referral calls on a daily basis, including from Mecklenburg County.
At its shelters, a total of 800 people pass through each year, about one-eighth of them from Mooresville, she said. She noted that at its domestic violence shelter alone, it sees some 200 women and children each year.
“The demand is very great,” West said.
Hope of Mooresville, for its part, is aiming to accommodate homelessness in a town that has no emergency shelter and a dearth of affordable housing, said DeCaron. The group operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under Fifth Street Ministries, though it is responsible for raising its own money.
“When a community safety net is developed, crime rates drop, children are afforded a more stable atmosphere that is conducive to physical and mental health, and individuals are more likely to succeed and become productive citizens,” its website says.
The idea to open a homeless shelter here was proposed last spring by a few members of a women’s church group, including Theriot, the veteran. The group reached out to DeCaron, who has a doctoral degree in psychology and who has experience working in the nonprofit sector.
To determine the extent of homelessness throughout town, the group started gathering data, finding that between July 2013 and June 2014 more than 90 town residents accounted for some 6,600 overnight stays at Fifth Street Ministries.
“They have nowhere to go in Mooresville,” DeCaron said. In addition, the group found that more than 60 students enrolled at the Mooresville Graded School District during the 2013-14 school year were considered homeless, according to research by the district. (School districts are required by the federal government to keep track of how many homeless students are enrolled each year.)
Beyond serving the homeless, the group hopes to raise awareness of a population whose plight is often complicated and difficult to overcome.
Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, “that’s really impossible to do,” said West, of Fifth Street Ministries. She founded that shelter system with her husband, Gary. “We’ve always had to have some help along the way.”
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about Hope of Mooresville, visit www.hopeofmooresville.com.