For the past few months, we’ve had a homeless woman living on the streets of Liberty. That may be no big deal for most cities, but for a small town like us with a population of about 1,800, it’s the exception rather than the rule.
I don’t know this woman’s story. I do know that she is from Casey County, that she graduated from high school here years ago, that she has resisted help from the community on several occasions, and that she has been arrested a couple of times, but that’s about it. I’ve heard she may have some mental problems, but I don’t know. I’m guessing that she’s in her forties or fifties.
This past Monday morning I was told that a local “Good Samaritan” had put her up in our local motel for the weekend because of the extremely cold temperatures, but that they weren’t financially capable of continuing. The woman was due to be back on the street Monday afternoon facing an entire week where the “high” temperatures weren’t expected to get out of the 20’s, and lows at night down into the low teens & single digits.
I was asked, as the director of the local Chamber of Commerce here, if I could talk with the folks at our local motel and see if they could grant a reduced rate if we could get volunteers to help "sponsor" one night each of a week's stay, which would get her past the worst of the cold spell.
This request really didn’t have anything to do with the Chamber of Commerce, and in truth, it almost slipped my mind to follow up on it, but I drove down to the motel and spoke to the manager. I explained what we were trying to do, and he agreed without hesitation to cut his daily rate by 25% if we booked a room for the whole week.
Just after lunch on Monday I wrote a brief email to the folks on my mailing list requesting help. The message was pretty simple: $30 bucks and the woman gets to sleep inside for the night. I needed 6 volunteers. (I had already decided to pick up one of the nights myself).
I pushed “send” and went to get a cup of coffee. I couldn’t have been gone 2 minutes. When I got back, over ten people had already responded, and more were coming in even as I watched.
It was like a wave:
“I have $60 for two nights.”
“Where do I send the money?”
“Put me down for a night.”
“Does she need food? Clothes?”
“Our business would like to do three nights.”
And on and on and on.
I immediately sent out another email telling everyone that we were covered for the week, but that didn’t stop people from responding. I continued to get calls and emails from people wanting to help for the rest of the day and on into Tuesday. It’s strange to find yourself in a position where you are telling people that you don’t need their help, but that’s where I was.
Some people where genuinely upset and hurt that I was telling them they couldn’t give money to help out. Others simply ignored me and sent in money anyway. Cash was dropped off anonymously at my office. One lady who had committed $30 brought in $150. Like that.
Currently, our homeless woman is booked into our local motel until next Monday. Good thing too, as it was 12 degrees this morning. Our local leaders are working to come up with a more permanent solution for her, but in the meantime, I have a surplus of cash in my desk in case we need to put her up longer.
And I know where to get more if I need it. All I have to do is ask.
You need to understand; None of these people have any obligation to take care of this woman, and Casey County is a not a rich community. I can’t think of a single person living here who drives a Lexus. Over 20% of our population lives below the poverty line, and 10% live below half of the poverty line. Not a lot of “bling” around here unless that description includes rolls of hay.
And many of the small-town rural stereotypes certainly apply to us: We gossip a good bit. We’re too nosy. We certainly can be a little backwards, simple, petty, self-righteous, opinionated, and judgmental at times. All that may be true.
But nobody’s going to freeze to death on our streets.