LaGrange discusses homelessness

Published 8:15 pm Friday, January 25, 2019

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council heard from local agencies about programs in place to help homeless people in the community. 

One of the biggest efforts goes through the LaGrange Police Department, which gives food to people in need in the community. 

“We have food in ours cars that is donated to the officers, and as a part of that we give that food out,” Sgt. Marshall McCoy said. 

The food the LPD provides is in addition to programs run by local churches and charity organizations. LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar said providing meals creates a connection with the community. 

“When we do the food, we get the rapport,” Dekmar said. “Then the opportunity for us to hook them up to services [is made possible]. Because what happens is they come to the warming center. There are two dozen different nonprofits or entities that are involved in homelessness in the [LaGrange-Troup County Homeless Coalition], so they are able to put those resources [with the people who need them] and change that picture.”

The LaGrange-Troup County Homeless Coalition’s warming center is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. anytime the nighttime temperature is expected to fall below 37 degrees. It is located on the New Ventures property and is run by volunteers. Local law enforcement officers offer free rides to the center when it is open. Anyone who needs a ride to the warming center can call 911 or visit the LPD.

Norma Tucker, a former council member, asked if signs for the warming center could include contact information, so that homeless people traveling through the area will have a way to ask for help. LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said that information can be added.

McCoy said that the LPD generally attempts to locate homeless people and offer rides to the warming center in advance.

“The police department provided $1,500 for temporary shelter for those needing assistance,” Senior Officer Natalie Belcher said. “They could be indigent, coming in from other cities. We had a few back during the hurricane when they found themselves displaced. Family members couldn’t take them, so we did.”  

Belcher said the LPD provided $415 in transportation funds and another $108 for meals, some of which were from when hurricanes forced evacuees to LaGrange. 

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton commended the LPD and local groups for their efforts.

“If someone is hungry and [an LPD officer] encounters them, [they] have something to offer, but I think the message is getting out there,” Thornton said. “People are coming to the [police department] looking for transportation to the warming shelter, and I appreciate what Mike [Wilson] and them have done at the warming center, but I also appreciate what Chief Dekmar has done with that.”

A long-term solution for homelessness in the community was also discussed during the meeting. Action Ministries CEO Kelley Henderson discussed a program that has helped people facing long-term homelessness find a place to call their own.

“We’ve been working in the City of LaGrange and Troup County now for the last 18 months to address chronic homelessness, and I’m proud to say that we have about 23 individuals who are permanently housed with an average length of time that they were living outdoors — in tent camps and places not meant for habitation — of about five years,” Henderson said. 

Henderson said those 23 people are just the beginning. 

“We’ve been awarded an expansion of that grant that we brought here in 2017 to help families, and so we are going to start small, but we should be able to assist about 10 families this year,” Henderson said. “We are going to focus on families with children, who are experiencing homelessness. Now, this is not emergency housing. This is permanent housing, so as families present a need, we have a local staff person who lives in this community and graduated from LaGrange College who will be screening and working with those families to get them off the street and into permanent housing.”

Dekmar noted the long-term impact that the program may have on local children.

“When we first started to look at the impact of homelessness on children, I think there were 500 to 600 children in our county that were classified as homeless — that bounced from one place to another sometimes sleeping in cars,” Dekmar said. “The last number that I saw was 90 something, and I am really happy to hear that [Action Ministries] now has a grant for families because of the significant impact it can have.”

Henderson said that with the success of each program, Action Ministries will fight for more resources to help homeless people in the city and county. According to Henderson, the current grant is for $240,000 that will remain in the community.

“That is rent,” Henderson said. “That is payment to private landlords, and so that money goes right back into the local economy.”

In February, Action Ministries plans to open a permanent location on Fort Street in LaGrange. According to Henderson, the location will provide a hotline for homelessness assistance. 

To learn more about the LaGrange-Troup County Homeless Coalition, visit