Homelessness: A Year-Round Concern
During the holiday season, additional attention is often given to those who are homeless, but homelessness can occur at any time of the year. And 17 rural counties in southeastern and central Ohio are working together to try to solve that problem within the next decade.
49-year-old Larry McIntire of Newark says he worked at a local company for 20 years and planned to retire from there. During a one month period in 2003, McIntire says he was told he would not have a job. On several occasions over the years, he made his couch available to friends who needed a place to stay. McIntire says he was not prepared when the tables were turned.
"Without a job, I became homeless pretty quick - within 4 months."
Larry McIntyre became homeless after losing a job, but others in Licking County are homeless even while employed. 2003 census figures show more than eight percent of Licking county residents live below the poverty level. In the downtown Newark area, where the majority of the homeless are the working poor, the poverty level can soar above 16 percent.
McIntyre says the majority of jobs he saw in 2003 paid about eight dollars per hour. "Because I made decent money where I was - $17 an hour," he says, "it was hard to convince people that eight bucks was fine. Anything was fine. Gotta have a job."
Friday, November 10th at noon, Licking County Commissioner Marcia Phelps stood on the square in downtown Newark and read a proclamation to a handful of Licking County Coalition on Housing workers and others concerned with helping homeless people. As she spoke, 1,210 pairs of shoes lined the square's perimeter - one pair for each adult and child without a roof over their heads during the past year. And those were just the ones who met the federal definition of homelessness. Coalition numbers indicate an additional 600 children were also homeless during the past year.
Jeff Gill, president of the board of the Housing Coalition, says the coalition sets up a shoe display to try to raise awareness about homelessness. "Homeless people tend to be invisible," says Gill. "If they're sitting next to you at Wendy's, you don't know they're homeless. They're just another customer."
Gill says the coalition buys the shoes used in the display by the pound from Goodwill and other charitable organizations who refuse to sell the items because they are in poor condition. And yet, people approached workers who were setting shoes out on the square earlier that morning, and said those shoes were better than they had for themselves or their children. Gill says, 30 to 40 pairs were given away.
Larry McIntire says, when he lost his job in 2003, other companies were laying off large numbers of people, and the competition for a new job was considerable. "With all the experience and awards, knowledge," says McIntire, "I thought [I had] the credentials to get a job. It turned out horrible."
McIntyre says he had 20 years experience with one company and eight years with another. He worked as a plate maker, and he trained people, supervised his area, and ordered products - all skills that would seem to transfer to several other jobs. But it took four months for him to land a job, and for part of that time, he lived in his van. McIntire says he used a former neighbor's shower to prepare for his days of searching for a job. He used the resources at the library and Licking County Opportunity Links, a job search assistance program.
Looking to the future, McIntire says he just wants a steady job and a chance to help others. He describes himself as a "shy guy" who only agrees to do interviews as a way to express his gratitude to the Licking County Coalition for Housing.
"My emotion really gets high when I think about this place," he says. "I had nowhere to turn. Never been in that situation. Scary. Down. Depressed. But with their help, eventually good things came. Thank goodness for my current employer. I'm back on my feet."