'It's going to hurt:' Chapel Hill's homeless population braces for Florence
Mack W. Jones, Jr's first time experiencing homeless is now, he claims, at 61 years old. James emphasizes that through God he is capable of overcoming anything and he has faith that this situation is not forever.
Mary Galdamez was evicted from her home Sept. 5, just days before Hurricane Florence loomed in the East Coast.
“(I) cried all the way up here,” she said.
She left her family friend’s home in Burlington and drove to Chapel Hill Monday to be closer to her job at Bonchon Chicken, a restaurant on Franklin Street. Since then Galdamez has slept in a local shelter for people who experience homelessness.
She lived with her son before the eviction but had to leave him and and her other children behind.
“We’re all talking about keeping our cell phones charged in case (the power) does go out,” Galdamez said. “And you know, me and my son, we talk every day, so that’s a big separation.”
For Galdamez and other residents experiencing homelessness in Chapel Hill, natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, pose additional threats to everyday life — from gathering extra food and supplies to securing shelter and transportation. Preparation is key because the strong winds and heavy rains can be life-threatening.
According to the annual census from the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, nearly 152 people experienced homelessness in Orange County the night it was conducted in 2018.
For many of those experiencing homelessness, the storm adds an additional layer of uncertainty.
“We’re waiting to try to figure what the shelters (are) going to do, if the shelters are going to open up so people can go in there and stay there, but we don’t know yet,” Chris Tracey said as he sat with his friend and a cardboard sign on Franklin Street. “We haven’t quite figured it out.”
For some such as Galdamez, staying at a shelter is the best option. After her eviction she came to stay at the Inter-Faith Council’s women’s shelter in Chapel Hill, known as HomeStart.
Galdamez only had time to grab clothes before her eviction, and will return to Burlington to move the rest of her belongings after the storm. She relies on IFC for food and water.
The county and local nonprofit organizations like IFC have worked to create safe locations for those experiencing homelessness to weather the storm.
IFC, which has two permanent shelters throughout the county, is also offering overflow availability during the storm, according to Jackie Jenks, the organization’s executive director. The group has 17 additional cots at Community House, a men’s shelter, and three cots at HomeStart, the women’s shelter.
Organizations such as local church Love Chapel Hill have focused on spreading the information about the shelters to those experiencing homelessness.
“We are trying to make sure we are informing the folks who are experiencing homeless right now (and) make sure they are aware of the resources that are available,” Love Chapel Hill's Executive Pastor Justin Simmons said.
But when it comes to reaching resources, transportation can be the most difficult part. James Lester, who struggled with inclement weather in the past while homeless, said the lack of transportation is exacerbated during storms.
“The biggest part basically is just not being able to get anywhere because it seems like all the buses shut down,” Lester said. “And of course, if it’s raining, you can’t walk anywhere.”
Love Chapel Hill and other community members are working to transport people to the shelters, said Simmons.
While the community tries to ensure individuals can reach the shelters, Galdamez worries how the storm will affect her trip to work at Bonchon Chicken.
“I think where I work they’re going to try to stay open as long as they got lights,” Galdamez said, “I told them if they wanted me to work, if they come pick me up I’d work, but I’m not going to walk it and get on the bus in the weather like what it’s going to be.”
Missing hours working at the restaurant is not something Galdamez takes lightly.
“It’s going to hurt,” she said. “If I end up not being able to work, that’s going to hurt really bad because the weekend is when we get the most hours in,” she said, “So I’m hoping it won’t get bad.”
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