Reaching the Homeless
Brunswick County Streetreach, Inc. helps Brunswick County’s homeless population, even in the extremely difficult times of COVID-19.
Governor Roy Cooper’s executive orders prohibiting mass gatherings, closing public schools and enacting the stay-at-home directive changed drastically the way Streetreach, Inc. helps the homeless.
As of April, Reverend Donna Phelps assured everyone that none of the 18 homeless people Brunswick County Streetreach, Inc. shelters have shown signs of the COVID-19 virus. “We take extra precautions,” she says. “We continuously check temperatures. We have hand sanitizer, gloves. One church group sewed us masks, so everyone has a mask.”
Phelps is grateful to have found a young man three years ago who was sleeping in a manhole. She gave him food cards then learned he wasn’t using them because he couldn’t read. She contacted Brunswick County Literacy Council, and now he is literate. The man lives on Phelps’ property and is a Streetreach volunteer.
If she found him today, Phelps wouldn’t be able to help him. Her shelter is full, and the governor’s orders prohibit Streetreach from using motel vouchers. Even though two good Samaritans stepped forward to rent their available four-bedroom homes to Streetreach at a much-reduced rate, the need is greater than available space. No government-supported homeless shelter exists in Brunswick County, and Streetreach, which was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2011, is the only nonprofit in Brunswick County that provides shelter.
As of this writing, Phelps knew of six families sleeping in their cars. Several encampments throughout the county have people with mental health issues, posttraumatic stress disorder or other conditions that discourage them from seeking assistance.
“They have fear factors, depression,” Phelps says. “They don’t want to go to a shelter.”
When churches could no longer open their doors to group meals or other use of their facilities, Streetreach distributed food in bags that contained prepackaged and pop-top items, breakfast bars, Gatorade and water. They gave gift cards redeemable at grocery stores and drive-through restaurants. From their 32-foot trailer that stores sleeping bags and other necessities, they distributed to people on the streets. From March 16 to April 9, the organization distributed more than 100 restaurant and grocery gift cards in addition to the biweekly distribution of food packages.
“We had to change up everything, totally,” Phelps says.
Generally, Streetreach works to get individuals in a long-term shelter or some form of housing within seven days of their initial contact. It takes two to three weeks to find enough resources to help families with children. In the midst of COVID-19 they were at a standstill.
Phelps’ desire to form a ministry came about in the late ’90s when she became involved with Prison Fellowship. Charles Colson, former aide to President Nixon, founded this Christian nonprofit after he served seven months in prison. Phelps wanted to help her brother, who is serving a 106-year sentence for second degree attempted murder. She said they had grown up with a single mother in the projects of Charlotte, and her brother made unwise choices.
Colson helped Phelps become a minister, and in 1999 she and her husband, Garry, co-founded Building Hope Ministries, Inc. They visited prisons to give hope, compassion and consolation to the incarcerated and assisted the prisoners’ families. The ministry continues to distribute food and clothing and find shelter for those in Brunswick County released from prison.
Phelps, a retired social worker who had worked at Brunswick County Department of Social Services, wants people to realize the homeless aren’t necessarily alcohol and drug addicts. “Some people have just fallen on hard times,” she says. “We are here to network with other agencies just to try and find and locate resources to assist individuals to get on their feet.”
Phelps emphasizes that Building Hope Ministries, including Streetreach, have never applied for a federal or state grant. All the money they receive comes from donations, and they depend on volunteers to help run the organization. “This is our calling,” Phelps says. “We are here to love one another, and if it’s meant to be, God will provide.”
The greatest needs now are funds, food gift cards and cleaning supplies, she says.
“We are strictly a Band-Aid,” Phelps says. “We are not a permanent fix. We try to locate resources to get people into a better situation. We work on a shoestring. We don’t know from week to week what we’re going to have.”
The ministry was founded out of a desire to help other people. “This is a very challenging time for everybody, but I’ve seen a lot of compassion,” Phelps says.
Want to help?
Brunswick County Streetreach: bcstreetreach.org
24-hour message line | (910) 842-2711
Emergency | (910) 269-3057 or (910) 512-3731
Drop-off donations | 1009 Hewett Road SW, Supply
Mailing address | P.O. Box 1331, Shallotte, NC 28459