CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like in many other cities around the nation, Charleston struggles to deal with the homelessness issue, and some members of a local shelter aren't sitting around waiting on the homeless to come to them seeking help.
Instead, they're hitting the streets looking for the needy.
Employees with the Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center drive through around the city every week looking for those in need of shelter, said Alex Alston, chief operating officer for the agency. The employees carry food with them to hand out to the homeless individuals as they talk about the services offered at the center, he said.
"We go out to talk to people and try to get them off the streets," he said.
Staff members often give out blankets during the outreach missions, Alston said. This past Wednesday, the group also gave out gloves and hats.
Alston and his team try to establish trust with the homeless so that those in need are more willing to come into the shelter or tell the shelter employees where other homeless individuals are staying.
"We're not going out there trying to force anyone to come into the shelter," Alston said. "But we want to make sure people know this is a safe place for them to come."
Alston said it normally takes a few visits before a homeless person begins to trust the shelter employees.
"Some people just don't want to come into the shelter," he said. "And it takes a little bit of time to earn their trust."
The weather can be another challenge when trying to find homeless in the city, Alston said.
"It's hard to find people when it's really cold outside," he said. Yet that's an important time to find them and make sure they are safe.
"The people living on the street don't get to take a day off when the weather's bad," Alston added.
"And because they're transient, it's really hard to pinpoint exactly where they're at," said Addison B. Hall, the 31-year-old behavior rehabilitation specialist with the SHAPE Program at Roark-Sullivan.
SHAPE stands for Support, Hope, Advocacy, Personal Responsibility and Education and members of the program deal with those who are chronically homeless in the area, Addison said.