No area is immune to homelessness. This is the message of Walton County organizations who are working to end the problem in the county for good.
Since the BP oil spill, Walton County has seen a rise in homelessness, and one Walton County social worker says it doesn't discriminate in either the north or south end of the county.
"Most people who come to me say I never dreamed that I wouldn't know where I was going to sleep or where my children were going to sleep. It's heartbreaking" said Dianne McManus of ‘Opportunity Inc,' the leading homeless agency for Walton and Okaloosa Counties
For McManus, the homeless picture she painted as a child looks much different today.
"The face of homelessness has changed. It is not the person on the street with a cup.
The face of homelessness now is the children and families. Hardworking families… sometimes two parent homes who have never ever asked for assistance in their lives," said McManus.
In 2011, the Florida Council on Homelessness reported 619 homeless people in Walton County, defined as those living on the street, or staying in emergency housing as of January 1st.
However, 2012 numbers show a decline to 484. This number, however, does not include all homeless persons, since those families and children who have lost their own place to live and are living with family or friends are not included.
McManus says stimulus grants to prevent homelessness in 2011 account for the decline, but they are no longer available. She said funding and resources are necessary to keep those numbers on the decline.
That's where organizations like The Matrix Community Outreach Center in DeFuniak Springs come in, providing a central location for resources to a group that seems hidden to the public, but not to Matrix Manager, Candy Nowling.
"People aren't just out on the street. Walking and begging for food. Because they don't see it on a daily basis, they aren't aware of it," said Nowling.
Nowling said it's time for the public to recognize a need in the county.
"I mean they're sleeping in their cars, they're sleeping behind our Wal-Mart, our Lowes, the fairgrounds, out in the woods between here and Mossy Head," said Nowling.
This is why Nowling and McManus are calling for a shelter; one that will give affected people a place to focus on a better future for themselves and their family.
We want to get down deep and figure out what these people really need so they can return to society and help us help somebody else.
McManus said it is about encouraging self-sufficiency. Think of it like a ‘Bass Pro Shop.'
"We've got the hooks the poles, the rods and the reels. We'll be glad to get you those, but you're going to have to do the fishing yourself and that's what we do. We're just a big Bass Pro Shop," said McManus.
To learn more about combating homelessness in Walton County, you can visit the following links:
The Matrix Community Outreach Center