Homelessness, a Nonprofit and the COVID Impact

Ardmore Canton, III  said he is disabled and found himself in a crisis situation as he traveled from Seattle to Macon. He sought out and received help from one of Macon’s nonprofits, the Salvation Army.

On one of the coldest nights of the year, Canton was able to find warm lodging at the Salvation Army’s Peyton-Anderson Men’s Residence on Broadway.

The Salvation Army said COVID-19 health restrictions made it hard for the homeless in Macon to find shelter during the early stages of the pandemic. (Nicole Bailey-Covin)

“It’s very important that I’m inside not to catch hypothermia,” Canton said…  “And I’m appreciative, by migrating here, that the Salvation Army is here to give me shelter.”

Salvation Army Corps Officer Major Rebekah Poole said the pandemic made it hard for the Salvation Army to help people like Canton.

“We had to reduce our number of beds due to COVID because you have to have them six feet apart,” Poole said.

The night shelter is usually full and currently provides 72 beds.

The hypothermia deaths of two homeless men on Christmas day brought more attention to the needs of homeless people in Macon. It also highlighted another negative impact of COVID. In response, the City of Macon opened the Brookdale Warming Center to help individuals and families.

Poole said It helped with the overflow.

“People who can’t go to the regular shelter, now they have another place that they can go to.”

Since the warning center opened with temporary funding in January, it has reportedly served 120 people.

June Jordan O’Neal, a community advocate and founder of the Mentors Project of Bibb County said, “The numbers at the warning center do not accurately reflect the (actual) number of homeless people in Macon.”

The annual community count of homeless citizens, also known as the Point-In-Time Count did not take place this year because of COVID-19. (Nicole Bailey-Covin)

O’Neal said identifying the current number of homeless people needing shelter was already a difficult process, but this year COVID made it impossible. O’Neal said because of COVID, the annual homeless count, or Point-In-Time Count was canceled. Cities across the state deemed the process unsafe.

“The Salvation Army has helped a lot of people, remained positive through this trying process, and is a wonderful organization,” O’Neal said.

But just as many people have found themselves in COVID crisis, so has the Salvation Army.

Last year, the Salvation Army’s thrift stores closed in both Macon and Warner Robins.

“We already had some issues going on with it, and then when COVID hit, it just kinda wiped us out totally,” Poole said.

This Macon Salvation Army’s thrift store at 3260 Mercer University Dr. and the Warner Robins store closed after COVID hit. (Nicole Bailey-Covin)

The familiar red-topped, gray, and white building at 3260 Mercer University went on sale in December 2020.  Major Poole said losing the revenue generated by the thrifts stores seriously impacted their programs and ministries.

“That was part of our income to support the shelter program and the social services program, and the Christmas program, and all of those parts of our revenues, our income,” Poole said. “So with the stores closing, we’re having to face a shortfall, and try to come up with ways to make up for that shortfall.”

The Salvation Army, like many nonprofits, has had to look for new, creative streams of income to help make up that shortfall.

Among the new ideas is a spring fundraiser that the Salvation Army hopes will become an annual community event.

The Drive 2 support Homeless Families and Veterans 2021 First Annual Golf Tournament is set to happen on April 12 at the Brickyard Golf Course in Macon.

Salvation Army event organizers are looking to the community to help make this event a success.

Volunteer coordinator, Carol Wylie said they are requesting business and individual sponsorships, volunteers, donated items for a silent auction, and of course golfers. Wylie said they are looking for 27 sponsored golf teams of four players each.

Nonprofits that have survived the economic crunch of coronavirus have been able to make the rather quick transition from in-person to online donations. Reports indicate that across the country, nonprofits like the Salvation Army have been forced by COVID to move donations away from traditional avenues.

“You know, the digital age kind of thing,” Poole said.

Poole said the Salvation Army was grateful to the community and overwhelmed by both the Christmas donations to the 2020 Toy Shop, and the success of its major fundraiser, the Red Kettle.

“And we were afraid that (Red Kettles), might be way down because of the COVID issues, but it was actually up,” Poole said. “And of course, we had other avenues of income that came in because COVID forced us to do more online.”

The Virtual Red Kettle campaigns were also a popular donation option for Salvation Army programs across Georgia and in other states.

As for the thrift stores, Poole said if the building sells the Salvation Army wants to put those proceeds back into its operation costs.  At this time, with the thrift stores closed, they do not have a place to house large-scale donations. But they still need items to help individuals and families.

“We continue to take some big items to help our residents here because that is how we help our residents with clothing,” Poole said. “You know, a lot of them come into the shelter and all they have is the clothes on their back”.

Along with basic needs, the Salvation Army also provides people with a variety of other services including job and permanent housing support. (Nicole Bailey-Covin)

The Salvation Army has a 121-year relationship with Macon and the surrounding community. It looks to strengthen that relationship with residents and the social services agencies that work to help people like Canton also find part-time work and permanent housing.

“Salvation Army is a very large organization. And they’re from one end of the country to the other, Canton said.  “And they help people who are downtrodden, going through different phases of life, they give you the opportunity to get back on your feet.”