Warm Embrace

The Spirit of Covington project sought to not only organize the city’s resources to tackle the unhoused situation but to focus and unleash the power of charity and generosity of churches, faith-based organizations and civic-minded citizens.

by John Babylon

Imagine being cut off from society. No home. No food. No job. No reliable means of communication, completely unplugged from the technology that dominates American life today. Consider not having the ability to prove your identity or that you had even been born. With no ID, there can be no job. With no job, there can be no home address. With no home address, there can be no ID. The cycle can be downright vicious. Now imagine this sad state of affairs becoming constant, day in and day out, each date on the calendar a monotonous copy of the last. Hope fades a little more with every sunset, and the belief that one can find a better life fades with it. Those who experience such hardships can feel so disconnected that they wonder if others even know they exist. 

Now imagine feeling as though someone actually saw you for the first time in what seemed like forever, your beating against an invisible glass partition having finally drawn their attention. They no longer pause to examine you, only to politely pass by like they might an animal exhibit at the zoo. They no longer view you as an annoyance they could just shoo away. They no longer walk out of their way to avoid you on the street. No, for the first time in a long time, someone saw you and felt compassion. What would that mean to you?

That was the question the New Hope Project’s Sandy Bohanon, Grace United Methodist Church’s Rod Tuggle and Willing Helpers Medical Clinic Director Jennifer Philips were determined to answer. In the summer of 2021, they brought the city of Covington together to begin to address the needs of the growing unhoused community in Newton County. Dubbed “The Spirit of Covington,” the project sought to not only organize the city’s resources to tackle the situation but to focus and unleash the power of charity and generosity of churches, faith-based organizations and civic-minded citizens. 

“Everybody is somebody.”

Sandy Bohanon

Their vision finally came to fruition on Jan. 10 at Grace United Methodist Church, taking the form of a warming shelter for the homeless. From the humble beginnings of one lonely wanderer the first night, the project grew every night thereafter until the center was at capacity. It remained there until it closed on March 31. The shelter served unhoused people as young as 21 and as old as 74, providing a hot meal, warm blankets, clothing, backpacks, toiletries and more. Perhaps most importantly, it offered a safe place to sleep—something too often taken for granted. 

The connections that were made were invaluable, moments in time in which the forgotten residents of Newton County were no longer invisible.

“Everybody is somebody,” Bohanon said.

(L to R) Rod Tuggle, Jennifer Philips and Sandy Bohanon

Results were life-changing. While some can become chronically unhoused due to any number of factors, others are simply trying to keep their heads above water during a difficult time. They do not seek handouts; they want a hand up. The Spirit of Covington managed to connect some people to jobs, vehicles and even to trips back home. They helped others secure birth certificates, safety lights and locks for their bicycles, valid IDs and more. Yet the need still exists. 

According to Bohanon, many of the unhoused people she encountered said that “the hardest thing for us is that we have to watch you go home.” While it may be tempting to ignore such issues, doing so does not make them go away. What can be done? “When there’s a need,” Tuggle said, “someone has to step up.” Philips, meanwhile, marveled at the “well of support” that sprang forth from so many different places: the New Life Praise Center, Eastridge Church, Solid Rock Baptist Church, Grace United Methodist Church, Repairers of the Breach, The Salvation Army, The Potter’s House Church and many others. 

The essentials are varied and vital, from mental health counselors and good socks to commercial laundry for bed linens. Even as churches and leaders across the community rise to meet the needs of the less fortunate, the call to action goes out. See someone in their need, whether they are homeless or not. As Tuggle said, maybe someday we can find a way to “get past right and wrong and do what is needed.” 

Click here to read more stories by John Babylon.

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