Issue of homeless in Central Texas grows

On any given morning around 11 o’clock, a line wraps around an old building on Avenue G near downtown Temple.

Unless you were seeking the place out, you’d probably never know it was there, much like those who walk through the doors each day.

Inside, people are greeted with smiles before they sit down to a hot meal. For many of them, it’s the only one they’ll get all day.

Fifty seven-year-old Caleb Rumfield is a regular visitor. As one of Temple’s homeless, he comes to the Salvation Army’s Feed My Sheep program almost every day.

Clean-cut, well-spoken and friendly, he doesn’t stand out from anybody you’d meet in line at the grocery store. But like many today, Rumfield has fallen on rough times.

People line up outside of the Salvation Army in Temple on Feb. 18 waiting to be served a hot breakfast and sack lunch. Photo by Brittany Montgomery.

After a stint in Oklahoma City helping his ill brother, Rumfield returned to his native Temple in 2005.

“At that point I was pretty much homeless,” he said. “It’s been off and on since then.”

Though Rumfield spends several hours every week at the library searching for jobs on the Internet, he has had little luck, and fears that his age is working against him.

While it is only a few years before he will be able to draw Social Security, he is not content to stop looking for a way to earn a living for himself.

“I’d rather be working,” Rumfield said.

Unfortunately, Rumfield’s situation is more common than many realize.

According to the annual homeless count, conducted  Jan. 26, there are 301 documented homeless in Bell County.

The count takes place across the country each year and in every county in Texas.

Sue Hamby was the coordinator for East Bell County this year and sees homelessness as a large issue in the area and beyond.

“It’s a problem in our community, in our state and in our nation,” she said.

Once the numbers are gathered from the count, they are sent to Austin so reports can be generated and sent to Washington, D.C., where they put funding back into the state.

“I’m hoping we can get some of that money,” Hamby said.

Homeless men enjoy a hot meal at the Salvation Army in Temple. Free food is provided to anyone who needs it at their West Avenue G location every day at 11:15 a.m. Photo by Brittany Montgomery.

As a regular volunteer at the Salvation Army, she sees about 75 to 100 people a day who are currently without a place to live.

Because of the state of the economy, Hamby said more individuals and families are finding themselves in the same situation.

“A lot of people who were giving to Salvation Army last year are now using Salvation Army,” she said. “The general public doesn’t realize how many people are one paycheck away from being homeless.”

Through her job at the United Way, UMHB alumna Mary Beth Kelton has become familiar with many of the faces of the homeless in the area, but said that the issue is not as widely recognized in Temple and Belton as it is in larger cities because most people don’t see them walking around downtown.

“We’re visual. That’s how humans are, so if you don’t see it, you don’t think about it. Out of sight, out of mind,” Kelton said. “The reality is, it’s out there. People just don’t know where to look for it.”

Although there is a stigma attached to those living on the streets, for many like Rumsfield, it’s a lack of family support that has kept them there.

“A lot of people think that the homeless are people who got into drug habits and blew all their money and don’t want to work and they’re lazy and want a handout from people,” Kelton said. “Granted, there are a few like that, but a lot of the homeless in Temple, it’s because of life circumstances.”

Prejudice keeps many people from being able to obtain employment.

“It’s really hard to get a job when you go in with a backpack on your back,” Hamby said. “They’re not going to hire you.”

Because the issue of homelessness is growing, Kelton believes it is something people should be more aware of it so more can be done to help.

“We need to be a family, and we need to take care of our own,” she said.

Through her experience, Hamby has found the most important thing others can do to help is to be there to care about the homeless.

“There’s a challenge for them not just to survive, but they don’t have very high self-worth. I think that’s one thing we can do is try to encourage them,” she said. “Everybody responds to love.”

Kelton agrees merely being there to support and encourage them is important.

“Some of these people don’t want a handout. They just want somebody to talk to,” she said. “They want emotional support and to know that someone out in the world is praying for them at night and thinking about them.”

Though the entire country is experiencing financial struggle, Hamby believes homelessness is something that should not be happening no matter what.

“I can’t accept homelessness. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I just feel like our nation is such a rich nation that people shouldn’t have to be living in their car,” she said. “It’s unacceptable to me.”

 

Author: JC Jones

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