James Evans never imagined he would be counted among the homeless.
But there he was Monday evening at the House of Mercy with his wife and three children, ages 7, 9 and 11, when community volunteers showed up for a Point-in-Time count of the city’s homeless population.
Evans, 30, said he was a contractor trimming trees for Georgia Power not long ago. He stopped working after doctors diagnosed his wife, Amanda, with acute Pancreatitis, resulting in the removal of her pancreas, gall bladder, spleen and parts of her intestines.
When the couple could no longer pay their monthly bills, they lost the trailer they were renting in Smiths Station, Ala., Evans said.
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“Right now I’m my wife’s caretaker and she gets disability,” he explained. “She goes in and out of hospitals a lot, so it’s hard for me to work and keep a job, while maintaining the kids and her, and that’s how we ended up losing the house and all. We weren’t able to pay for nothing.”
On Monday, Evans and his family were among about 40 people surveyed at the House of Mercy as part of the annual count conducted by Home for Good, a United Way agency leading the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.
The count, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, started Monday night with community volunteers surveying residents at local shelters, which also included stops at the Salvation Army and Trinity House. The project continued 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, with volunteers looking for homeless people at encampments along the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, under local bridges and other areas where some of the city’s most destitute residents gather.
Evans said he and his family have been staying at the House of Mercy on Third Avenue for almost four months.
“At first it was kind of rough getting settled in and getting the kids adjusted, but afterward it kind of smoothed itself out,” he said. “It’s still kind of hard some of the time, because they have a lot of older people here, and they’re not used to having kids around. Usually, we just keep them outside and keep us all together.”
He said the family received a letter from the Columbus Housing Authority on Monday saying they could get an apartment but he would need a part-time job.
“It’s hard to have a part-time job when I’m working with all my wife’s doctor’s appointments,” he said. “She probably has one day out of the whole five-day week period that she doesn’t have a doctor’s appointment. It’s kind of hard to work around it, and I can’t leave her alone with the kids. With the kids getting out at 2:30, it’s just kind of rough to hold a job and take care of her.”
As Evans spoke, his wife, who also suffers from Type 1 Diabetes, answered survey questions asked by a volunteer who works at TSYS. His three children’s eyes lit up when they opened boxes provided by volunteers. Inside they found chocolate chip cookies, pop tarts, Hershey’s bars, as well as other goodies.
Evans said it’s hard not being able to provide for his family, and some relatives have abandoned them along the way because of the stigma. But he wants people to know that homelessness does not discriminate.
“A lot of people actually think it can’t happen to them, but it can happen to anyone,” he said. “The only thing it takes is for you to lose a job, or not be able to make your payments.
“You never know, you can have an illness in the family,” he added. “It can happen to anyone in life; you never know the time or place.”
What is the Homeless Point-in-Time Count?
The annual Point-in-Time count is a census of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night during the month of January as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It requires that Continuums of Care conduct a local count of persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night.