During wintertime, many are comforted by the warmth of family, friends and good cheer. However, some Key Peninsula citizens will be spending the cold winter months without a roof over their heads.

Key Peninsula Community Services Director Penny Gazabat says that the Key Peninsula faces a unique challenge when it comes to homelessness.

According to Gazabat, since there is less visibility when it comes to living in the woods, homeless populations from the city are gravitating to this area. This is putting a strain on the food supply and resources available to help the homeless, she said.

“We work very hard to provide information, referrals and items that will make life just a little easier,” she added.

Gazabat has given out tents, camping gear, hats and gloves. The food bank also has coordinated with Access Point 4 Housing for people who qualify for assistance.

“People are always very grateful for any kindness given to them. Many cry and have a hard time with the whole idea of having to ask for help. It is very humbling to me to see the strength they have to muster to ask for help,” she said.

The plague of homelessness has put a greater emphasis on family. Gazabat said many people are returning to the nest as a response to the weakened economy.

This is known as a “Walton family” concept. Gazabat believes it’s a good model for citizens in the Key Peninsula who are faced with family members who are without a home.

“As a society, we have put guilt and labels on people who don’t leave their family of origin by a certain age,” she said. “Many are now faced with having to look at this differently and finding the true value of family.”

According to Gazabat, many of the homeless are not far removed from the rest of us. Many people are just one paycheck away from homelessness. It is a humble reminder that it can happen to any of us and that as a community having a safety net is essential.

Jeff Hausmen has been homeless for six months and spends his days holding a cardboard sign by the intersection of Elgin Clifton Road.

“I came here from Seattle to live in the woods. The woods of the Key Peninsula give me a sanctuary that is removed from the pressure and discrimination that happens in the city,” Hausmen said.

Hausmen became homeless after losing his job as a Boeing machinist. He said he lives in tents in the woods of Longbranch and credits fellow homeless citizens and the food bank with helping him survive.

“It’s funny how I grew up in the Key Peninsula and played in the woods as a kid,” Hausmen said. “I never thought I’d return like this.”

For information and to volunteer for Key Peninsula Community Services, go online to keypeninsulacommunityservices.org.

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