Ninth District Opportunity, along with some of its community partners, provided dozens of homeless and low-income people with resources for the new year.
The event, which took place outside of The Way on Bradford Street in Gainesville, was publicized to the homeless communities in the area as a place to grab a hot meal, a coat, some cold weather accessories and even a cell phone if they needed one, as well as a place to learn about benefits like Medicare and food stamps.
"Medicare is very complex," said broker and independent advocate Kathleen Krueger. "As people kind of living on the outskirts, they don't get the mailers, they don't feel like there is anybody they can talk to, they don't understand it. They also don't understand what they can get to help pay for their Medicare."
Krueger explained that low income citizens can apply for Medicaid and a program called Extra Help, a social security program designed to lower the cost of their medications. She said they also make sure their clients on plans that get them eye glasses, dental coverage and get them access to other assistance programs.
Krueger said while the process can be challenging, especially with the Department of Family and Children Services closed due to the pandemic, but she wanted to use her skills in the field to give back to those who need the help.
Other helpers included WeGo, which provided transportation; coats and cold weather accessories were available; food was donated by the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and was cooked by The Way crews. The food bank also donated hygiene kits. Truck trouble meant a mobile shower unit wasn't able to make it to the event, but non-profit Clean Start showed up anyway, complete with hot food and snacks to share.
"We found that up here in Gainesville, there are a lot of people that need some help and we'd like to be able to help them," said Jonathan Riggs, Clean Start's executive director.
"We really were surprised at the number of people wo needed assistance, to be honest," said Robin Lamb, Assistant Director. "We fell in love with Ninth District and want to bring the truck out and touch as many people as we can."
The mobile unit is a 26-foot panel truck complete with an enclosed shower, a mirror and a barber's chair. Riggs said they will often go to encampments and offer a place for a shower and shave, along with a haircut.
The event required masks and was socially distant. NDO Housing and Program Director Michael Fisher said when the most recent state homeless count was canceled due to COVID-19, they wanted to reach out and help people while also touching base.
"This was a way to get everybody here and count them easier," said Fisher. "We know where the camps are... we go out every week, we visit with them, they know who we are."
But Fisher said they didn't want people just to be counted, they also wanted to provide things that might be challenging to get a hold of.
"They need help with social security, they need help with disability, they need help with Medicare, they need help with the Housing Authority, and the food stamps, and the list goes on," said Fisher. "Why don't we bring them here, and make it all one event?"
Fisher said Tuesday's event turned out bigger and better than expected, and NDO hoped to continue with similar events in the future.
If you'd like to help out, Fisher said their Amazon Wishlist is a great place to start.