Helping those in need

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

As temperatures drop into the teens, the homeless population struggles to find ways to keep warm. 

To help combat this struggle, the Troup County Homeless Coalition’s Branches of Hope has opened up its warming center to the public 365 days a year, providing a warm place to sleep along with hearty meals. 

However,  the warming center has reached near-capacity, struggling to keep up with the rise of visitors. With a low amount of staff to assist in keeping up with the rush, the center is fighting to maintain its functionality.

“We suspected that we would get an uptick in visitors, but now we’re at capacity, so we’re packed,” Director of Development Lisa Ellison said. “We’re up to the 30s and 40s in people now, so we’re just trying our best at keeping people in from the cold. It’s been very busy with low to skeletal staffing because that’s what we can afford right now.”

To help guests move forward with their lives and build a solid foundation beyond the walls of the facility, Branches of Hope is collaborating with several organizations in the community to better provide needed services, such as rental assistance. The partnering organizations include Habitat for Humanity, Pathways, and more. 

“What we’re really trying to do is provide a program for transformation,” Ellison said. “So we know we’re dealing with a lot of addictions and issues that are life-controlling issues. So we’re working and trying to get people into programs, and we’re trying to get them out into something that will help them get better.”

Despite the above-average rate of visitors staying at the warming center, supplies such as food and clothing have recently been abundant, providing everyone with a great amount of necessities. According to Ellison, what the center needs most is a new furnace to keep guests warm and funding for operations. The organization’s website says it operates on a $600,000 budget to keep the shelter running 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

“Right now our biggest concern is we need a new furnace, which is very expensive, and we need funding to stay open,” Ellison said. “So it’s not like we need blankets, we don’t need coats, we don’t need clothes — we’re even to the point we don’t need food. What we need is financial assistance so that we can continue and keep our doors open.”

To help keep the facility running, Ellison is urging members of the community to offer help in any way with an emphasis on volunteering. 

“The first thing we try to do is get them to come in and do a tour with me or my husband and walk our facility so they can see what we’re doing and say, “Well, I’d like to be a part of this or I’d like to do this,” Ellison said. “That way we can kind of plug them in from there.”

To volunteer or donate to Branches of Hope, Ellison urges community members to visit their website at https://www.branchesofhopega.org/ or to email her directly at lisa@branchesofhopega.org.