Friday, February 25, 2011

Family Featured in Homelessness Documentary Again At Risk of Homelessness

[Milton, FL, 2/25/11] Melissa (photo) swore she wouldn't let homelessness ravage their family again, but despite her best efforts, this scourge is knocking on the door of their humble former FEMA trailer with an eviction notice for nonpayment of lot rental of $795.

The producer of the documentary, Diane Nilan, has set up an emergency benefit for the family on Feb. 28, 7:00 p.m., at Ferris Hill Baptist Church in Milton, where she will screen the film and take up a love donation to help the family. "I heard about Melissa's plight Thursday afternoon," said Nilan. "...and immediately made plans for this event." Nilan was in northwest Georgia advocating for homeless persons in Calhoun, GA, but pointed her road-weary RV, her home and office for the past 5+ years, toward the Panhandle.

Melissa Nason, a feisty single mom living in Milton, FL, just outside Pensacola, is one of the seven women featured in the award-winning (BEA Film Festival) documentary about homelessness, on the edge, which was filmed in a 4-year period by a national homelessness activist, Diane Nilan, president/founder of HEAR US Inc., and documentary maker/professor Laura Vazquez, Northern Illinois University.

Job loss and family crises pushed this family to the edge again. Melissa, who graduated cum laude from University of West Florida, needs a job and a reliable car to get back and forth to work. She also struggles with finding adequate care for her son with autism. But she won't quit, and is willing to speak up about their circumstances at the benefit. "The number of homeless families is growing astronomically," pointed out Nilan, who has worked in this field for over 25 years, including as a director of shelter in Illinois.

For more information, contact Diane Nilan, 630/267-5424.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

National-Local Campaign Launched to Ease Homelessness in Calhoun, GA and Beyond

Homelessness happens in many ways, points out Diane Nilan, president and founder of HEAR US Inc., a national advocacy organization. Calhoun, GA, a small town off Interstate 75 in northwest Georgia, provided a textbook example of homelessness creation: a nondescript motel on the edge of town that had turned into "housing" for about 80 people, including 6 families, was shuttered due to nonpayment of utility bills.

After spending the weekend in Calhoun witnessing the agony caused by this sudden and unexpected closure, HEAR US launched a national campaign to urge the property's owners to do right by the people displaced by the motel's closing. Nilan, a prolific blogger and social media maven, posted a blog on, along with a petition directed to the 2 legislators (GA Senator Chip Rogers and US Congressman Tom Graves) who purchased the Oglethorpe in 2007, taking out a $2.2 million dollar loan from Bartow County Bank.

"Many questions remain about ownership and responsibility," states Nilan, who spent the weekend chronicling the trauma of homelessness at the motel. "In this age of 'personal responsibility' I'd like to see justice done. Folks here were shell-shocked at their upheaval." She is calling on the legislators to contribute money to the relocation expenses and to push for affordable housing solutions so people don't need to turn to motels or the streets. Homeless families and adults, by the millions, struggle to survive nationwide.

Nilan witnessed the painstaking process to relocate the Inn's 80 residents. Three women (who wish to remain anonymous) worked with each person to assess their resources (slim to next to none) and to explore options (also slim to next to none). Local motels and restaurants came forth to help. Individual donors and church groups chipped in money and motor-power, helping to pack up and move people to alternative lodging.

"What most people don't realize," Nilan points out, "is every community has hidden homelessness like this--people who've desperately turned to motels as a shelter, often because many communities lack shelters or other emergency resources." Nilan has decried the federal government's "bogus" count of 656,129, the latest so-called census of homelessness.

Puzzling, to Nilan and others, is the way the motel ownership (along with a $2.2 million loan) seems to have been transferred to someone (John Edens) who, by his own admission, lacked the ability to handle the task. "How can you just dump your fiscal responsibility and walk away from it? I think these legislators owe something to this community and to homeless people everywhere," she suggests. 

Nilan will present at the Georgia Alliance to End Homelessness conference next week before leaving the Peach State on a national homelessness awareness tour promoting her new film, "on the edge," seven women's stories about homelessness.

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photo by Diane Nilan (C)2011, yard sale items at the Oglethorpe Inn