The struggle to survive

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 11/14/17

Joshua Stewart and Amber Estill have woken up every day for the past month not knowing where they would find their next meal.

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The struggle to survive

Posted

Joshua Stewart and Amber Estill have woken up every day for the past month not knowing where they would find their next meal.

The couple has been scrambling to eat once a day since they became homeless and moved into a tent near a busy shopping area in Jasper.

“It’s a struggle every day to come up with food,” Estill said.

Sometimes strangers offer them a few dollars for a meal.

Lona Courington, executive director of the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless, has helped them out with canned goods and given them the names of local restaurants that give away food to those in need.

“It’s embarrassing to go in and ask for free food, but you have to do what you have to do to live. You have to set your pride aside,” Estill said.

The week before Thanksgiving has been designated as Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The event, first organized in 1975, is co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

Nearly 550,000 people were homeless on a single night in 2016, according to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

Alabama’s homeless population in 2016 was 4,111, an increase of 3.6 percent from 2015, according to the report.

The statistic includes 3,019 individuals, 1,092 people in families with children, 254 unaccompanied youth, 373 veterans and 390 chronically homeless individuals.

In Walker County, approximately 246 people are homeless each night, according to statistics provided by the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless.

More than 10,500 people, or 16 percent of the county’s population, is categorized as food insecure in the Feeding America’s 2017 “Map the Meal Gap” report.

The coalition serves an average of 80 individuals or families each month, according to Courington.

Initially, assistance takes the form of temporary placement at a local hotel.

“We don’t end it there. During that week, we work closely with the Career Center to try to get them jobs. We work with the housing authority to see if that’s an option. We work with the emergency shelter grant out of Montgomery to try to get deposits and first month’s rent. We also pay some deposits here locally,” Courington said.

The average cost to get an individual into housing is between $800 and $1,000, of which the coalition can cover a maximum of $300 for a deposit, according to Courington.

Courington is currently working with Estill to get her paperwork in order so that she can get an apartment and be reunited with her children.

Estill, who was homeless for a period of four months two years ago, lost housing recently after a dispute with a family member.

Both she and Stewart, who is experiencing homelessness for the first time, worked at a carnival together before relocating to Walker County.

Stewart described the recent turn of events as “a humbling experience.”

“I used to make decent money. Now I live in a tent,” he said.

The couple recently put in applications at a local business near the wooded area where they are currently staying.

“We’re not the type to be out here. We’re not drug heads. We’re not thieves. We just stumbled on some bad luck,” Estill said.