Become aware of the homeless situation in the local area and what you can do to make a difference.

PIKE COUNTY - There is a common misconception, that those who are homeless only sleep in boxes or under bridges. The reality however, is that many sleep on acquaintances’ coaches when able to do so.

Because of the misinformed and the fact that there is an issue, the nonprofit Christian based organization, Pike County Hands of Hope (PCHOH) is trying to help those in need, as well as enlighten the public of the truths that their neighbors may be facing.

At a meeting last month, the Vice President of PCHOH Michael Saffarewich said the organization wants people to know who they are and what PCHOH is doing.

Often times, those who need help will call the organization’s Hope Line, (855) 296-HOPE (4673), which will help them as they seek shelter and try to create a plan for their future.

Over the last two years, the organization has received 317 calls through the Hope Line, and about 70 people who were living on the street, in a car or were “couch surfing” received assistance from PCHOH.

Jim Pierce, the president of PCHOH started with the organization five years ago, after he learned of the issue in the area. Today, he says those in need are our neighbors who should be helped.

All involved in PCHOH are volunteers and the organization was incorporated in 2011, later receiving not for profit status in 2012. There are approximately 30 volunteers who manage the Hope Line, fundraise and do whatever else is needed.

A volunteer, Michelle Tellefen said she was unaware of PCHOH, but after seeing how people are helped and the fact that everyone experiences tragedy at some point, the organization is “wonderful.”

Phyllis Simpson is one of several volunteers who answers the Hope Line. The line, she said is a public phone number for people in need of shelter and are seeking help. Because many people aren’t aware of the organization, the volunteers want more to learn of their existence, in part because there isn’t a shelter in Pike County, so if someone calls they are likely “literally homeless.”

When someone calls, Simpson said they could receive assistance to stay in a motel for a few nights, as well as gift certificates to purchase necessities. As a “referral service,” the volunteers provide the people with information to agencies that can help them with their various needs. But, many who call are often at the point where they need help sooner then later, as they are facing eviction. One call Simpson received was from a mother of three, who had two autistic children as well as an epileptic child, that left her unable to work. In such instances, Simpson encourages them to call the appropriate agencies often.

Simpson said she often hears people say there are no homeless in the area. But, its just that many have fallen on hard times and they are “good people.”

Pierce said the situation is a “pressing issue that is very important in the community” as those in need are just others who need services and “resolutions to issues.”

Last year multiple families received about 60 days of housing in motels through the organization, as well as about seven people who received rental assistance. To help 18 people over the last two years, it cost about $800 Pierce said, with $75 per night for a motel.

The organization, Pierce said tries to “find a link between the individual in need and organizations.”

As part of volunteering with the organization, Saffarewich said is dealing with dignity as people are facing various obstacles in their lives, but they are looking for help because they don’t want to lose their dignity.

The simple question of “how can we help you?” Saffarewich said starts a process, as an individual may need to get out of the weather or need items like diapers, as they are “living on the edge” and are unable to attain everyday necessities.

While the organization can help people in the different fashions, the reality Saffarewich said, is that “all we have to offer these people are ourselves.”

The volunteers work a few days a month or what fits their schedule. They may assist with outreach activities from their home, contacting businesses for various reasons. There will be volunteers at the upcoming fundraiser, a Tea for Mothers and Daughters at the United Methodist Church May 6. As well, help is needed for the various social media platforms.

A volunteer on the board of directors and the resource committee as well as a mother, Leslie Meyer received help from PCHOH at one point. Now, Meyer is a member of the fundraising committee. While she wasn’t homeless, Meyer was afraid she would become since she had never been in such a trying situation, as she once had the “white picket fence.” Being in such a situation, Meyer said is “embarrassing for people” and she too, didn’t know what to do until a friend introduced her to PCHOH.

Hands of Hope, Meyer said isn’t about “people living on a sidewalk,” but rather everyone struggling with finances and needing food on their table.

Volunteers, Meyer said are needed and as people have their own talents, they should consider volunteering because a face painter may be perfect at a carnival or a person who enjoys grilling, could share their skills at a barbecue. Just giving an hour a year or an hour a day “makes a difference.” What’s important though, is “bringing awareness to the community” that PCHOH exists because so many are unaware that there are homeless people in the area.

Identified as a “Christ centered organization,” Pierce said PCHOH cares for anyone who seeks the help, but there is a “spiritual component.” Another volunteer, Loraine said as a faith-based organization, the “foundation” is prayer to ask god for help. Involved since the organization started, Loraine’s “calling was to prayer.”

As she struggled, Meyer said she “lost a lot of faith.” But now, she wants people to know while PCHOH is a “faith based organization,” it doesn’t mean people must attend church to receive assistance. Its just that, faith is included in the organization’s mission.

Pierce said PCHOH needs volunteers because there is a “need in the community” that is “real.”

Pike County Hands of Hope’s next event will be a Mothers and Daughters Tea, May 6 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Milford United Methodist Church on 206 East Ann Street. To reserve a place, call (917) 846-5278. For more information about PCHOH, visit http://pikecountyhoh.org/.