With nearly 500 homeless men, women and children in the Belton area, organizations are surfacing to provide the basic necessities taken for granted by those who have never wanted or lost, such as school supplies or shoes to wear to a job interview.
Many homeless people, however, go undocumented in the system, largely because they are unaware or ashamed to ask for the services available to them within the community.
For Rosie, who wished to keep her last name private to protect the interests of her family, this has been the case for the three years she has lived in Texas. She doesn’t stand out in a crowd. She’s well versed, nicely dressed and educated, a former teacher on the East Coast. But below her cool exterior, there’s something she keeps hidden.
“When my husband left me high and dry, I lost everything trying to divorce him. I have family in Texas, so I came here. I’d be on the street if it weren’t for them,” she said.
After losing her job, Rosie found out her husband was involved in an extra-marital affair and that he had no intentions of dissolving the marriage. She spent her savings trying to divorce him. When it was final, she was left alone.
Now she moves from place to place, living off the little money she is able to make working part time for general labor wages.
From motels, rented rooms and family members’ couches, she has moved an estimated 16 times in the past year.
“Where I live depends on how much money I make, which varies widely from month to month. You can’t get a job worth anything without a permanent address,” she said as she took another bite of her bread and turkey sandwich, the only substantial meal she would have all day.
Like so many others, Rosie’s pride keeps her from accepting help from local organizations designed specifically for people in her situation.
This is the behavior Director of Programs for Families in Crisis Suzanne Armour wants to change.
“Whether it’s because of domestic violence or because you’ve fallen on hard times, there’s no stigma in asking for help. We’re all a part of the same community, and we’re just all here to help each other,” she said.
At its core, Families in Crisis deals with domestic violence and provides the emergency safe shelter, offers rental assistance and transitional housing for those who wish to escape dangerous situations It is an environment where the abused and downtrodden can feel safe and, at the least, at home.
Although facilities like this exist to help those who need it, Armour was adamant in expressing that Families in Crisis does not give handouts, a common misconception about shelters and centers that provide services for those in grave need.
“It’s not about solving someone’s problems. It’s about showing them their options,” Armour said.
Helping Hands Ministry is a faith-based organization that focuses on meeting the needs of the poor physically and spiritually.
“We’re more than a safety net. We’re there to provide emotional support and to pray with them as well,” said Executive Director Rucker Preston. “More than anything, it’s sharing Christ’s message with them. When you’re taking care of people in need, society just flows better.”
From single mothers, farmers who can no longer sustain their land and underemployed husbands, Helping Hands reaches into surrounding areas to bring food, faith and friendship to 2,289 families, 189 of which are homeless.
That’s nearly 500 homeless in Belton alone. Many of these, like Rosie, travel from place to place, staying with friends or sleeping in their cars if they have one.
“It’s not a certain race or a certain educational background anymore. We’ve had people come in with doctorate degrees. It’s all sorts of situations now,” Preston said.
The mission of places like Helping Hands is to build people from the ground up, then send them out into the world to become more productive members of society.
Preston said, “We’re one of the few organizations looking for fewer clients. We do everything we can to meet the need, but our goal is to have the numbers decrease.”
All walks of life enter Helping Hands’ doors and something keeps them coming back. Perhaps it’s the self-esteem in small things like money-management classes and like-new clothing provided to build its clients back up so they can stand alone and create a new life for themselves.
“The ministry itself is the heartbeat. We try and follow Jesus’ teachings and serve the people in his name,” Preston said. “When clients tell you how welcome and at home they feel here, it really touches you. When you meet these people and hear their stories, it fulfills the whole purpose of our meaning.”