If a homeless man walks the streets of Cleveland and everyone refuses to see him, does it make the social problem nonexistent?
At least one Cleveland resident says no. LeAnn Haynes has worked for 10 years to ease the burden of homelessness on her fellow man. She said she cannot help but see the need.
“I know it could be any one of us. Nobody can ever say it cannot happen to them,” Haynes said. “I just feel like it is our responsibility to help others when we can.”
Haynes’ story began 10 years ago near an Atlanta bus station. Rumors said a homeless population inhabited a local park. She and several friends put together paper bags with sandwiches, knitted hats and gloves. Every sack was given out with more in demand.
She was hooked.
“We need to care for our own. Even if they are passing through, they are still in our town. It is like they are in our house,” Haynes said. “Would you have somebody sit without food in your house while knowing they are hungry?”
Statistics provided by the Homelessness Research Institute revealed a rate of 21 homeless people per 10,000 general population in 2011. According to these numbers, potentially 210 of Bradley County’s 100,055 population are homeless.
Haynes said there are homeless people in Cleveland on any given day, and this belief has left an unpleasant taste in her mouth. For 10 years she has focused her efforts primarily on Cleveland and Bradley County. Items varying from hand towels to food have been given out to those in need.
Some might say she has taken a kind gesture and turned it into a way of life.
“My mother, her four sisters and my grandmother are kindhearted people and I think I’ve just inherited it. I think I just have compassion. I am just a real firm believer that compassion is not enough,” Haynes said. “You need action with compassion.”
Haynes is brimming with ideas meant to aid the homeless community. Thoughts of a mobile breakfast truck or a temporary home fill her head. She has seen how life has beaten some of the homeless down. Others lack the confidence or knowledge to rejoin society. Her dream is to help them stand again through shelter and skills-based learning.
“We need a place for the homeless. We need a place for those people to go during the day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m,” Haynes said.
One question haunts Haynes.
“Some people have children who are not school age. Are they out in the cold, too,” Haynes asked. “That is a critical need.”
The homeless find shelter where they can: convenience stores, dumpsters, old shacks, dilapidated trailers, street corners, benches, the library, woodlands and more. Haynes continues to visit those she knows are in need. Her car is filled with items like food, blankets and miscellaneous items given to her.
Haynes said she is not even certain how she comes by some items. They are often given to her by those interested in helping. Haynes sees a lot of compassion in Cleveland and Bradley County.
“We have a lot of good people in this town. I think they would get involved if they knew how and if they knew of the need,” Haynes said. “All it takes is for people to get involved.”
She suggested those interested in helping should volunteer in the community. Her ideas include: the Salvation Army, the soup kitchen, United Way or the emergency shelter.
Volunteering will help the homeless and the number of nearly homeless living within the city and county limits.
“I do not focus solely on the homeless, but also the nearly homeless,” Haynes said. “They’re in motels, staying with family or friends, or at the shelter.”
For 10 years Haynes has been driven to help the homeless. Sometimes she deliberately seeks them out. Other times she sits in her car and prays the Lord brings them her way. She claims it is like she is drawn to them.
Haynes’ question is not whether homelessness exists in Cleveland. She said she knows it exists. Her question is whether people will join her to put an end to the plight of the homeless.
“If there is but one, there is a ‘homeless problem’ in Cleveland,” Haynes said.