"I think [raising awareness] is imperative for us," said Jessica Mitcham, Good Neighbor's executive director. "Obviously one of our many goals through the shelter is not only just providing shelter services but also making our community more aware about the issues that surround homelessness, [its] causes and things the community can do to help.
"I think there's definitely a good sense of unity in doing that the same week that lots of other organizations nationwide are doing the same work ... trying to get the word out about homelessness -- what the causes are, what's being done to help," she said, referring to National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. "I hope we're doing a better job. I hope we're making progress on getting the word out there better. I still do meet people on a pretty regular basis though that don't know that Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter is here, don't know where we're located. So there's still definitely work to be done in getting the word out."
With next week's purpose being twofold -- to raise awareness about homelessness and funds for the shelter -- several events are on tap to support the Cartersville nonprofit. The largest outreach offerings will be the Knowing Your Neighbor Open House on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at noon, which will feature lunch, tours of the facility and a shelter guest who will be share their experiences; and a WBHF radiothon on Thursday, Nov. 17. From 7 to 10 a.m., WBHF listeners will be able to make donations to the shelter by calling 770-386-1450. Along with garnering pledges, the radiothon also will generate awareness as board members, donors and former guests of the shelter are scheduled to speak.
In addition to these two events, other offerings will include a volunteer appreciation lunch on Tuesday; dine and donate day at Ruby Tuesday, where 20 percent of a diner's meal expense on Thursday, Nov. 17, and Friday, Nov. 18, will benefit the Good Neighbor; and bucket drives on the corner of Erwin Street and Cherokee Avenue in Cartersville on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 19, mornings.
Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter has served more than 4,100 people. On average, the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001 assists nearly 345 individuals per year. While they are housed, Good Neighbor's guests are required to find a job within four weeks, and the shelter's staff helps them establish savings, focus on problem-solving skills and chart out future housing options.
To further meet the needs of Bartow's homeless, the Good Neighbor increased its guest capacity from 23 to 30 last week.
"Currently, because our occupancy level has been so high, we've not been able to accommodate everybody that wants to come into the shelter," said Christine Smallwood, incoming board president for the Good Neighbor. "So we are now able to add those other beds and enable them to come into the shelter.
"Historically the winter months with it being cold, we see more people wanting to come to the shelter. In the past, we've had to turn them away. Now we're excited that we don't have to do that, that we can offer this facility for more people in the community."
The increase in capacity took affect temporarily following the April tornadoes and recently became permanent after Good Neighbor was able to provide additional evening staff.
"For 2010, [the] average occupancy for the year was 54 percent," Mitcham said. "This year, with nine months completed, occupancy is at 92 percent. We've now had four out of nine months that we're at 100 percent full occupancy every single day. I don't know that there's been any huge changes from last year to this year. My positive take on the increase is when guests come in they have to start looking for work and have to really start trying to get back on their feet.
"So if we're going to look at that in a positive way, we're going to say, 'There's this many people in our community that realize that they have to aggressively start looking for work in order to get back on their feet and make it.' So for my guests, I feel like that's a positive step in the right direction to say, 'I'm going to come into the shelter where they're going to hold me accountable to really finding employment.'"
For more information about the Good Neighbor, call the shelter at 770-607-0610 or visit www.goodneighborshelter.org.