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 Change.org, 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