William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 18 Sep 2005 12:35:12 -0400

Some working to help homeless regain vitality

September 18, 2005

As the St. Johns County grows, developments mow over the bush-camp homes for 
numerous transients and homeless, said Jean Harden of the Emergency Services 
and Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County.

"It's not something we should sweep under the rug,"

Harden said. "Most of these people are just trying to hang on and live."

The homeless count for the county is 981, but Harden believes the number is 
twice that. In December, Harden and 27 volunteers hand counted every 
homeless and transient person they could find.

"I know we missed some people, but it was the best we could do," she said.

The county's coalition was created in 1998, but it lacks funding, Harden 

"It's not totally hopeless if we could get someone interested in more state 
and federal funding for programs," she said. "There are so many programs 
that could be done."

And then there are those who believe if you build it they will come.

"Some people worry if you provide more shelter for homeless it will attract 
more of them to the county," Harden said.

Most of the 15 transient camps are located in wooded areas next to the 
county's five daily labor pools, although one is in Ponte Vedra Beach far 
from a day labor center, said Sheriff's Office Deputy Rich McHaux.

Debbie Cochran, manager of Labor Finders, said without their services there 
would be more problems with the homeless.

"Some say labor pools are rent-a-bum, but we want to change that 
perception," she said. "We want to help them get back on their feet."

At 5 a.m. on most weekdays a stream of transients files into Labor Finders 
on West King Street.

"It's like night of the living dead," said St. Augustine Police Officer Tom 
Clements. "People come out of the woodwork."

There's also the shelter of St. Francis House in St. Augustine.

Those who go there must find work within three days of moving in. They can 
stay a maximum of 28 days, and they have to be sober.

Joey Wilke helps run Food Not Bombs in St. Augustine, which offers food to 
the homeless three nights a week.

"A lot of these guys have more heart than anyone will imagine because 
they've been through so much."

Transient Alfred Kirkland, 65, wishes more people wanted to help the 

"It's makes you feel good when you find a good person," he said as his 
bottom lip quivered.