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In the News with Anne Hart of Savannah Morning News


Hart to Heart: Helping the homeless on Savannah’s southside

Heidi Peterson knows firsthand what it is like to be homeless in the suburbs.

She’s spent about four years homeless, often looking for a hidden spot in an office complex to sleep.

 

Today, Peterson is no longer homeless. But she hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to live without a place to call her own.

As founder of Southern Soul Survivors, Peterson is working to help people who are homeless on Savannah’s southside.

She began the organization as a way to address the lack of access to services for the homeless living on Savannah’s southside from DeRenne Avenue to I-95. The main focus of Southern Soul Survivors is to provide hygiene items and clothing to the homeless on the southside of Savannah. With the majority of the resources for the homeless located in or around downtown, shelter, food, showers and laundry aren’t easily accessible to the homeless on the southside, Peterson said.

“Having been homeless, and a recovering addict and alcoholic, and a rape/attempted murder survivor, it is but for the grace of God that I am alive. I am a Southern soul survivor,” Peterson said. “Now, with six-plus years’ sobriety under my belt, God has guided me through my adversity so that I might provide greater good to the community.”

The public is invited to Southern Soul Survivors charity auction from 3 to 5 p.m. July 22 at Trellis Apartments club house, 15 Brasseler Blvd., in Georgetown. Pizza will be provided by Marco’s Pizza and beverages provided by Trellis. Donated auction items include antiques, photography, art and restaurant gift certificates.

What lifted Peterson out of homelessness? Peterson credits her family, mental health therapy and her church family at The Sycamore Church in Savannah for helping her start a new life she says “is foreign to me.”

“A life filled with love, trust and without condemnation. Being homeless steals many things from you, to include your self-esteem,’’ Peterson said. “Without my family and The Sycamore, I don’t know where I would be.”

Homeless families who are living out of their cars are reminders to Peterson of that startling statistic that most American households are less than two paychecks from being homeless.

Peterson recalls seeing one family at the Dollar General in Georgetown over the holidays. The daughter asked her father for a coloring book. He said they had to get baby formula and diapers.

“I look at the hands of a man who had worked hard all his life, their leather texture cracked and darkened from grease, holding a loaf of bread and peanut butter,” Peterson said. “This wasn’t a man afraid of work.”

She watched them get into their vehicle and it was obvious that all of their bedding was also in the car.

Peterson handed the man crayons and a coloring book through the broken driver’s window and said “Merry Christmas.”

“His eyes teared up as he said ‘Thank you,’ and his daughter giggled. This wasn’t a family out buying beer. They were just trying to get by, day to day.”

Peterson aims to make Southern Soul Survivors a resource that provides clothing, hygiene products, and eventually shelter and shower locations for those in need.

The southside’s homeless problem is not always visible, Peterson said.

“You may see one person pushing a cart, or someone riding a bike, but what you won’t realize is that cart has everything they own. All their worldly treasures reside in approximately four cubic feet. The person on the bike may live in the woods behind Wal-Mart.”

Eventually, Peterson would like to expand the organization to include temporary housing for women and children. She envisions the housing to incorporate basic home economic educational services (bookkeeping, thrifty spending habits, money saving, etc.), resume writing classes, basic computer skills and job interview skills.

Southern Soul Survivors also works with Savannah nonprofit organizations when possible, including the Savannah Care Center.

As this advocate for the homeless says: “I am dedicated to helping others not for glory or some pat on the back, but because it is what one should do.”

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