DECATUR – An annual breakfast focused on helping the homeless Thursday included some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that a new culinary arts training program set to begin May 5 is already full and donations are already sufficient to award scholarships to three-fourths of the students.
The bad news is that the Decatur area's homeless population continues to grow, going up another 3 percent since last year according to the most recent survey results.
“Unfortunately these numbers are increasing every year,” said Darsonya Switzer, program director for Homeward Bound. “A loss of funding for employment programs, substance abuse and mental health services definitely affects people's ability to maintain housing.”
Switzer was among the speakers Thursday at the 2014 Affordable Housing Breakfast of the Decatur-Macon County Homeless Council Continuum of Care Advisory Committee.
An annual point-in-time survey of the community's homeless population Jan. 23 identified 255 homeless people, 78 of whom were children and 71 of whom could be classified as chronically homeless. This compares to 247 homeless people, 61 children and 69 chronically homeless in 2013.
A increase of nearly 18 percent in the Decatur area's homeless population occurred between 2012 and 2013, however, which is about the time $1 million in federal economic stimulus funds ran out for a special Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program that began in 2009.
The Rev. Stacey Brohard, executive director of the Good Samaritan Inn since June 1, gave between 50 and 60 breakfast attendees a taste of what it's like for people in need to eat at the soup kitchen, asking them to take a number and stand in line for a meal of scrambled eggs, sausage and potatoes.
“I put my chefs up against Richland's culinary students in an Iron Chef fundraiser last month, and we won that night,” Brohard said. “What you just tasted this morning was food from the winning chefs from that event.
He also talked about the classroom under construction at the northwest corner of the building where 15 students will receive instruction in the new Mercy Kitchens culinary training program, a collaboration of the Good Samaritan Inn, Richland Community College and Workforce Investment Solutions.
Graduates can use the food service sanitation certificate they will earn to get a job and/or take more classes through Richland's culinary department.
“That's 15 people from our dining room that we'll be able to find jobs for or help them continue their education,” Brohard said.
That line produced spontaneous applause throughout the Good Samaritan Inn's dining room.