A new homeless advocacy group is working on improving services for the needy in Newton. Members of the group, which is comprised of several downtown churches met Tuesday night to discuss ways to combat homelessness and poverty in the community.
Initially the group was focused on creating a day center for the homeless, using the Friendship House, 213 N. Third Ave. E., which belongs to the First Presbyterian Church in Newton. While the group’s founder, David Goos, still believes that’s a viable option, group members have decided to focus on making short-term improvements in the interim.
Group members have been researching different options in the community to learn more about the issues surrounding the homeless in Newton. Initial estimates from the police department have pegged the homeless population at 100 people, but several volunteers at Tuesday night said they believe the actual population is more than double the department’s estimate.
“Our focus has shifted, we’re looking at things like laundry and showers, we want to try and use existing services to break away some of these barriers,” Goos said.
Targeting the “low hanging fruit” by working to increase awareness in Newton’s needy of available services allows the group to move towards its goal, Goos said. On Tuesday, group members started planning a laundry night in Newton. Goos has been in contact with a local laundromat owner, and the group plans to organize volunteers to provide free laundry services.
The volunteers plan to provide quarters, laundry detergent and fabric softener to those in need. The group also discussed setting up a mending station at the laundromat to help residents make minor repairs to their clothes.
“I think we can get people involved, but we need to keep it moving,” Goos said.
Also in the works is a plan to create a short survey for residents to complete when they come in for the laundry night. Robyn Taylor, who co-founded Friends In Hope, a local charity organization, said she’s often amazed how many homeless or needy people she encounters that are unaware of the services that are available to them. By surveying the crowd at the laundry night volunteers can help those in need in the right direction. At Tuesday night’s meeting members of the group created a list of resources that are available in the Newton area.
“I’ve run into so many people that were starving and they didn’t even have food stamps,” Taylor said.
Often there are barriers that block the homeless from accessing these services, Taylor said. Many may not have a place to receive mail, making it difficult to sign up for some of these services, and many are reluctant to ask for help. Taylor has been working with Newton’s homeless for years, and she said it’s often difficult to build up their trust.
“They don’t trust many people,” Taylor said. “I’ve been able to connect with them, and they’re happy if someone cares about them, and takes an interest in their lives.”
Members are also continuing to recruit volunteers, but Goos said he’s heard some negative feedback from people who feel uncomfortable working with the homeless. On Tuesday, Goos urged the rest of the group to keep recruiting more volunteers.
“When you get to know them, they become real people, and we can help them,” Goos said. “Don’t worry about how you feel, do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org