By Maiya Mahoney
Within a matter of two days, Flagler student Serena Milne was able to see firsthand some of the struggles the homeless face on a daily basis.
“I saw a homeless woman pull a bloody paper towel out of her skirt, obviously menstruating. I tried to offer to buy her tampons or pads but she refused my help,” Milne said. “This left me discouraged and thinking about the struggles that women have to face with their reproductive health when they are homeless.”
The next day, Milne had another encounter with a homeless individual that left her with a desire to raise awareness and address the issues that plague the homeless in St. Augustine.
“I heard a knock at my door and opened it to find a bloody man who was suffering from injuries and the heat. I did everything I could by calling local numbers that address the mental health crisis and I did not have any luck,” Milne said. “I asked the man if I could call the police so we can get him some help because I simply did not know what else to do.”
These incidents inspired Milne to develop the St. Augustine Homeless Community Outreach in September 2020. She hopes to provide those homeless in St. Augustine with all their basic needs, as well as advocating for on-call personal mental health professionals in situations that do not need police involvement.
“This process requires us to get in touch with shelters and other organizations in the area to collaborate solutions once we are presented with someone in need of help,” Milne said. “Right now, we are working towards trying to build a relationship with the St. Francis House, the homeless shelter downtown. They’ve been struggling due to COVID-19, so we’ve been giving them donations that we do not need.”
The St. Augustine Homeless Community Outreach collects hygiene products, clothing and monetary donations for meals to accompany the ‘hygiene packs’ they put together. These hygiene packs are put together by Milne and Rebecca Ward, a Flagler alumna who helps Milne organize the outreach. Volunteers also are able to help.
“We distribute to individuals by walking around town, so the plaza area, St. George Street, and the parking garage,” Ward said. “We approach them and ask if they would like any food or a hygiene pack, some politely refuse. We spark conversation with them in order to ask for their personal needs so that next time we see them we can get them goods they specifically requested.”
Milne and Ward meet once a week to plan for their outreach events and organize the donations and hygiene packs. When starting the outreach, they both did research on the issues the homeless face and possible resources available to them. They also talked to those homeless in St. Augustine to gain a better perspective.
“I think walking around town and talking one-on-one has definitely given us some perspective to some of the issues they have to deal with day-to-day. We are still working out some kinks since this is a new outreach program but I feel there will always be a learning curb when starting any new project,” Ward said. “If we can continue the support and the momentum; I hope we can expand into an alternative solution to homelessness in which the police force would not have to get involved.”
Milne and Ward both share similar goals for the outreach: providing the homeless with their basic necessities every human being needs.
“I hope the first thing this outreach can accomplish is providing homeless neighbors with the basic supplies they need, like hygienic products, clothes and blankets. I then hope to incorporate mental health professionals, medics and other needed services into the program where we can designate on-call helpers to replace unnecessary police involvement,” Milne said.
So far, Milne and Ward are finding the outreach to be an enjoyable, rewarding experience.
“So far, the outreach has been very enlightening. It’s easier to get an understanding of the struggles that the homeless face from the homeless themselves. I like talking to people and hearing their stories so it is a great opportunity to get back in touch with humanity,” Milne said. “The better we can connect with people, the better we can help them. I felt like the incidents I witnessed were a calling from the universe itself to address this problem of homelessness that is in much need of attention.”
“I see myself sticking with this for a while,” Ward said. “Complex problems do not have simple solutions. I want to try to solve this complex problem or at least be a part of solving it and that will take time. I am in this for the long run and I really hope that this program is able to continue.”
The St. Augustine Homeless Community Outreach can be found on Instagram or Facebook @staughomelessoutreach and monetary donations can be sent to @staughomelessoutreach through Venmo.