“There is a huge homeless community here within Bartow County and in the state of Georgia,” said Christine Smallwood, board president for the Good Neighbor. “I don’t think people really understand that. The shelter is a resource for these people. Last year we increased our occupancy from 23 total to 30 to help the community, and unfortunately for the community, we’ve been at or close to the full  percent for most of the year, which is a huge indication that homelessness is obviously on the rise.
“We are here to help those people get back on their feet and in order to do that we need help in the community. Only 5 percent of the funds that support the community come from the federal government. Ninety-five percent of it comes from monies raised from this community. This is a very giving, caring community. It’s been my experience that when you make people aware that there’s a need in this community, they step up. They step up to that plate and they help and that’s amazing to me.”
With the local Homelessness Awareness Week’s purpose being twofold — to raise awareness about homelessness and funds for the shelter — a pair of events are scheduled to highlight and support the Cartersville nonprofit.
The public offerings will begin at noon on Wednesday with an open house at the shelter, 110 Porter St. The gathering will feature lunch and tours of the facility and its computer lab. On Thursday from 7 to 10 a.m., a WBHF radiothon will be held in which 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. Last year, the radiothon raised $20,200 for the Good Neighbor.
Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter has served more than 4,600 people. On average, the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001 assists nearly 400 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.
“[We want] to get the word out about Good Neighbor and what we’re doing here and make sure that people in the community are aware of the shelter [and] know how to get in touch with us,” said Jessica Mitcham, Good Neighbor's executive director. “... It’s important for people to come by and see the Good Neighbor.
“If they have seen homeless shelters on TV and in the movies, I feel like the Good Neighbor looks and works really, really differently than people stereotypically have in their mind about a shelter. I think it’s important for people who are interested to come by and see the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter and realize that the environment here is really different than what people stereotypically have in mind when they picture a homeless shelter. So we try lots of times a year to create opportunities for people to come by and just visit.”
One of the highlights of the open house, Mitcham said, will be the Good Neighbor’s recently opened computer lab. Courtesy of funds secured by Heritage Baptist Church and the Rotary Club of Bartow County, the offering features 11 new computers and a flat screen TV. Along with assisting its guests in their job search, the computer lab also will provide GED classes in the near future and computer literacy classes.
“We’re thrilled that this year we’re able to offer a facility at the shelter where the guests can, if they do not have computer skills, learn some computer skills,” Smallwood said. “If they are computer savvy, it’s a resource for them to search for employment, to get their GED, to help better themselves.
“So we’re thrilled that we’re able to provide those resources to them. We will be establishing a GED class at the shelter so the guests that do not have a GED can acquire that to help them get a better job and be successful in the community.”
For more information about the Good Neighbor, call the shelter at 770-607-0610 or visit www.goodneighborshelter.org. Pre-registration to the open house is encouraged but not required.