By Natalie Simms
It was a 2:15 a.m. phone call from a desperate mother last summer that really opened Devon Smyth’s eyes to the enormity of the women’s homelessness problem in Rome and Floyd County.
Smyth, who is the executive director of the William S. Davies Homeless Shelters, knows all too well the reality of the homeless situation. But when she couldn’t find a place for the caller and her two children to safely sleep that night, she knew something had to be done.
“She was living in her car and had no family to stay with. Unfortunately, the best solution we could come up with at that time was for her to go to a well-lit parking lot and sleep in her car for the night,” says Smyth.
The current Davies Shelter on East 18th Street is for men only. As for women, the Rome Salvation Army has four beds in its emergency shelter designated for women that are made available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Hospitality House provides shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. Otherwise, there are not any transitional shelters available for homeless women, and especially any mothers with children, in Floyd County.
After that call, Smyth went to work on the Ruth and Naomi Project, a homeless shelter for women and/or women with children. Through diligent fundraising efforts over the last 10 months, the Davies Shelters just purchased property at 2007 N. Broad St. for the new shelter in May.
“Over the last year, we’ve had over 100 phone calls from women looking for shelter and number of them had children. We knew there was an urgency with the problem but we really didn’t know how big the problem was until I got that call last June and then started tracking the numbers,” says Smyth.
“So, we’ve been working with our volunteers…talking to groups and raising funds over the last year. And with cash in-hand, we purchased the house for $170,000 last month. That really speaks volumes about Rome and Floyd County and dedicated folks who want to help.”
The property will provide housing for eight single women and four women with children. But a number of renovations are needed before the property is ready to open for housing.
“The house is older but it is not in too bad shape. It needs all new paint and new flooring throughout, plus a new bathroom is needed and a new roof. We estimate it will cost $100,000 for renovations to be completed and to furnish the project,” she says.
To that end, the Davies Shelters are working hard to raise funds and get the community involved in helping with the work. The currently have $19,000 raised toward the renovation project. They recently held a benefit concert with Michelle Malone at the DeSoto Theatre and have plans for a community-wide yard sale and street fair on July 7.
“We will have a community wide yard sale and street fair with food trucks and activities on Saturday, July 7 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Rome. The week before, we will be collecting donations of items to sell from the community…we will take anything including household items, furniture, clothes, kitchenware,” says Smyth.
Two community workdays have already been held with another planned for Saturday, June 23, at 9 a.m. They are working to remove wallpaper, paint, remove carpeting and yard work. Anyone is welcome to come help.
“We’ve had a number of youth groups, church groups and students working on volunteer hours. And if folks can’t work, they can donate money to help us purchase paint and supplies we need for the renovations,” she says.
They hope to open the Ruth and Naomi Shelter by January or soon. The project is named for the two Biblical women who found themselves homeless after their husbands died. “It’s a great story in the Bible of how these two women from different backgrounds and ages were homeless, but then how they came to not be homeless,” says Smyth.
But the ultimate goal of the Davies Shelters, is not to just provide housing, but also help those in the shelter to get back on their feet through an individualized case plan.
“We are a transitional shelter meaning that once they have a bed here, that spot is theirs. We work with the guests on an individualized case plan and that may mean helping with mental health, getting their GED, finding a job, getting out of debt and then finding housing that is safe and secure,” she says.
“We offer budgeting classes, life skills, interview skills, tutoring for GED, health care and even assistance with getting a driver’s license. The typical stay is three to six months and sometimes up to a year. There is no time limit. Some guests deal with substance abuse or mental health issues, we may send them to Highland Rivers for help. But they can come back. We’re a place of first and second chances, but also of 85th chances.”
How to help: To stay up-to-date on work days and shelter needs, follow the Ruth and Naomi Project Facebook page. You can also donate to the project online or call 706-512-1152 for more information. You can also submit cash or checks to The William S. Davies Homeless Shelters, Inc. by mail at PMB #198, 3 Central Plaza, Rome, GA 30161 or in person at the men’s shelter at 132 E. 18th St. Rome, Ga., 30161.