Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

June 27, 2013

Homeless move to safer locale

VALDOSTA — The City of Valdosta and advocacy groups relocated 11 homeless individuals Wednesday morning from their shelter under the James Beck Overpass to a small piece of vacant property in District 1.

The move came after the Valdosta Police Department and City of Valdosta received continued complaints about unacceptable behavior under and around the overpass, such as public indecency and panhandling, said Police Chief Brian Childress. The effort is intended to solve the problem with a humanitarian solution as an alternative to arrest. To date, the police have not had to take action.

The city intends to post No Trespassing signs under the overpass to curb homeless individuals from settling there in the future. The VPD will maintain a watch to enforce the measure, and will direct these individuals to the South Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness to receive services and lodging if necessary, Childress said.

Conditions under the bridge are unsanitary, and have grown to the point of a serious problem with piles of garbage and human waste creating a foul odor in the area.

Childress served as a liaison for the relocation effort, connecting the SGCEH, the local non-profit Love in Action with Compassion (LAC), Inc. and area businesses to get the group what they needed and to clean up the area.

Academy Sports and Outdoors, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Edward Jones helped get the group tents and food for their temporary stay, and the SGCEH promised to help the individuals obtain identification documents and fill out other paperwork necessary to gain employment.

“There are six businesses here that are willing to hire these people with no discrimination as long as they can pass a background check,” said LAC CEO Margie “Cookie” Guyton.

Guyton has brought meals to the group every day for the last three months, and she intends to continue serving the individuals while they remain in the tent area.

Dr. Ronnie Mathis, SGCEH director, offers everything else, from steps to acquire more permanent living accommodations to finding a job or getting an education. Mathis gathered the group to lay down ground rules before they were transported by bus to the new location.

“We will have zero tolerance for unlawful behavior,” Mathis said. “It’s clean, very shady. There will be no running water but there will be Port-O-Potties. Somebody from my office will come out twice a week to help you get food stamps, IDs, etc., but we need your cooperation to keep it as clean as we can.”

The area was offered by an independent landowner, but the VPD would like the location to remain undisclosed to avoid the impression that it is open to anyone. The area is temporary and intended to serve only the group relocated Wednesday. Other homeless should contact the SGCEH, (229) 293-7301.

Permanent residents of the area were informed of the relocation and appeared to be understanding, Childress said.

“It’s not right to move people without help,” Childress said. “We appreciate the businesses downtown being patient with these people. They said they felt sorry for them, and they’re not looking to get them arrested. That’s what makes this town different.”

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