The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 31, 2013

Homelessness has variety of faces

COUNTY SEES significant increase in homeless

The Daily Southerner

TARBORO — The face of homelessness…It’s a homeless veteran with mental health issues. It’s a two-parent family where the mother has lost her job and the father is underemployed. It’s a single, pregnant woman living on the streets while battling a drug addiction.

Once a year, the homeless are counted in a “Point-in-Time” count. This year, Theresa Mix, 44, and her 9-month-old daughter, Sirterri Parker, will be included in that count in Edgecombe County, which ends at 6 p.m. today. Mix has lived at the Bassett Center in Rocky Mount with her daughter for three months.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of homeless families,” said Chris Battle, executive director of United Community Ministries (UCM), which operates a homeless shelter for families and a homeless shelter for individuals. “Our waiting list for our shelter for families is over 45 families. Our facility holds 12 families and we’re at capacity pretty much most of the time.”

The goal of the Bassett Center is to help the homeless become self-sufficient, said Linda Brinson, program/ case manager for the center. Mix, for one, is well on her way. She asks Brinson for bus tokens to go out and look for a job, in fields such as retail and telemarketing.

“Anything working with people. I’m a people person,” Mix said. This time last year, a steady job was the last thing on Mix’s mind.

“I’m a recovering addict,” she said. “I’m a living testimony for those who feel like they can’t do it.”

When Mix looks back at her life in January 2012, pregnant with her daughter and living on the streets, doing anything she could to get money for drugs, it’s almost unrecognizable – “360 degrees.”

“Homelessness is not something I wish on anybody,” she said. “I was sleeping in abandoned cars. Sometimes I would sit out on a person’s porch and sleep in a chair.”

When Sirterri was one month old, the Department of Social Services took her away from Mix and that was the turning point in her life.

“When DSS took my baby from me, that was my rock bottom. When they took her, they took everything from me. It was like I couldn’t even breathe,” she said

Mix made a “conscious decision” to change her life, for the sake of her life and the welfare of her daughter. On June 4, 2012, she walked through the doors of the UCM shelter on McDonald Street in Rocky Mount, where she received drug rehabilitation through the shelter’s Recovery of Life program. Six months later, she moved to the Bassett Center and has reclaimed custody of her daughter.

Now, Mix says she is happy with the person she sees when she looks in the mirror, and at the life she has created.

“To see her [Sirterri] wake up and look at me and smile is the most beautiful thing that happened to me. She keeps me going. She keeps me laughing,” Mix said, as she bounced her bright-eyed smiling daughter on her knee. Now, Mix envisions a “nice, two-bedroom” apartment for her and her daughter. As a resident at the Bassett Center, Mix is on the priority list with the Rocky Mount Housing Authority.

Mix got into drugs to “fit in” and feel like she was a part of the crowd. It nearly destroyed her life, but she offers hope to those struggling with addiction.

“What I’m doing now, you can do, too, but you have to have a made-up mind and a sincere heart. You have to decide that enough is enough,” she said.

With the changes Mix is making, she won’t be counted among the homeless next year.

In the 2012 Point-in-Time count, 165 people, or 0.29 percent of the population of Edgecombe County, were counted as homeless, up from 0.26 in 2011, the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness reported.

“The count is usually significantly lower than the homeless that are in the community,” Battle said. He estimated that more than 600 children in the Nash-Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County Public School are homeless, and those numbers “won’t even be reflected” in the Point-in-Time count.

To Battle, the increase in the number of homeless families, whose income cannot provide them “safe and affordable housing,” is an alarming statistic.

“A lot of people are underemployed because they’re undereducated,” Battle said. He would like to see an increasing in the number of training programs for vocational trades and believes having a more educated workforce would give an incentive for more businesses to come into the community.

“Jobs are sort of scarce around here in Rocky Mount,” Brinson said. “And it’s hard to look for a job when you don’t have any transportation, so that’s a big obstacle for some of them.”

Other obstacles Brinson cited are lack of childcare and having family in subsidized housing, where the time of stay for a non-family member is limited to two weeks.