NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - At the Godtel Mission, Joe Martinez prepares dinner for the hungry and homeless. On this night he's not cooking for many, but that's expected to change. "We're seeing a new homeless person," said Angela Kirk, Encourager Program coordinator. "They're the ones who have never been without. They don't know what to do or where to go. And they're reluctant to ask for help," said Kirk.
Kirk is one of hundreds statewide who surveyed the homeless on the same day, January 29th. She is helping the Texas Homeless Network to find ways to prevent homelessness. "Most of the people had been losing a job, not been able to pay rent, not being able to gain enough money for deposits," found Kirk. Counting people just in homeless shelters is really just a snapshot of a much bigger picture, particularly here in Deep East Texas. In rural areas homeless people are hard to find. Social workers call them the "hidden homeless." "A lot of the homeless in rural areas are doubling up in other households," explained Kirk. "They move from household to household, living with relatives and friends. Royce Oliver, Godtel Mission director, finds them in other places. "There's people who live in abandoned houses and under bridges. A lot of different places. Pitched tents. I"ve seen them set up in the woods behind the downtown soccer fields."
The recession is leading to similar surveys elsewhere. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-profit group in Washington D.C. is spreading the findings. They include, homeless families with children are climbing, the poor and very poor are expected to grow in number and preventive programs and housing vouchers are needed.
This is exactly what the new Encourager Program in Nacogdoches plans to offer. "We provide a short term rental assistance or possibly deposits if they are already homeless," said Kirk. "What an Encourager is, is a volunteer who can be paired with a family to help them work on their goals." The Encourager Program is a new mission of Love In the Name of Christ. Last night, hundreds of meals were sold to raise money for the cause.
Martinez will serve them if necessary, but he would rather them have a home. He knows shelter provides encouragement for a better life.