Valdosta Daily Times

June 28, 2013

Homeless: A move in the right direction

The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Moving several people living beneath the James Beck Overpass to an undisclosed tent city does not cure the problem of homelessness in Valdosta, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.

For several months, a homeless population has lived under the overpass. Church groups and others have been regularly bringing them food and items during the past year. Late last year, The Times ran a series of articles on the people living under the overpass, but many of those people have since moved on while others moved in.

In recent weeks, the overpass population has increased. City officials and police received more complaints regarding the people under the overpass. Complaints ranging from indecent exposure to health concerns.

An easy answer may have been to tell these people with no apparent place to go to move on. Some cities may have simply toughened vagrancy laws or arrested people.

Instead, in Valdosta, city council members, city police officials and homeless advocacy groups are trying an alternative path.

On Wednesday, the overpass population was moved to an undisclosed area, offered by an anonymous property owner. The location offers tents, porta-potties and a few other amenities. Many volunteers who have regularly brought food and items to the overpass may continue coordinating with officials to bring meals and other items to the people in this new location.

Advocacy groups plan to offer training to help these people find work and housing while offering them opportunities to learn how to keep and maintain both.

This tent city is not a “forever” option. The people moved there will have 90 days to make the most of this opportunity.

Meanwhile, city officials do not plan to allow the underside of the James Beck Overpass to again become a homeless village within Downtown Valdosta. No trespassing signs have been posted at the overpass, and Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress has instructed his officers to direct possible violators to the area’s homeless advocates.

The move is not a long-term solution, but it is a move that has possibilities of helping those in need, in helping those who want to turn their lives around.

It would seem the city has remembered the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 25:40: “... Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”