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Homeless shelter in danger of utility cut off

COVINGTON -- Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston is asking citizens to help keep the utilities on at Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter.

"The local homeless shelter is at serious risk of having its utilities cut off," Johnston said. "Their utility bill is due and they have no money to pay it. An account has been set up at Newton Federal Bank to accept donations for the homeless shelter's utility needs. Many men, women and small children are currently being housed at the shelter and if the utilities are disconnected, the people being helped must leave."

Johnston said the shelter is more than $5,300 behind on utility payments, for a bill due in early September. The cut-off day was Tuesday, put Johnston asked the city to provide extra time in hopes of raising enough money to keep the utilities on.

Johnston said the shelter is regularly late on utility payments. New bills go out next week, he said.

"I plan on going through a process with the homeless shelter board to reevaluate operations with the homeless shelter," he said.

Checks made payable to Covington Homeless Shelter can be dropped at any branch of Newton Federal Bank.

The city of Covington assisted with the purchase and renovations of the shelter, making an approximately $1 million grant to the Covington Housing Authority, owner of the property on Turner Lake Circle. The city has not been involved in operations of the shelter. Johnston said his involvement is personal and not on behalf of the city.

Since opening its doors in 2009, the shelter has struggled to stay afloat, falling behind, at one time as much as $60,000, on rent payments to the Housing Authority, and utility payments to the city.

Two weeks ago, the shelter's director, Clara Lett, urged the public to donate money and participate in fundraising activities throughout October, Homelessness Awareness Month.

She said many churches have agreed to set aside one Sunday during the month to take up a special offering for the homeless, and each weekend in October, there will be a fund-raising festival with games, food and other activities at the shelter on Turner Lake Circle.

Lett said she would invite the community to stop by and participate at one of the festival events. Also material donations are gratefully accepted -- any type of paper products and food items will be used, she said.

She said the shelter is often full with 68 residents.

"It used to be worse in the winter, but with the economy the way it is, now it's year-round," she said.

Also, Lett said if there's anybody interested in becoming a grant writer for the shelter, she would love to speak with them. The former grant writer's husband was transferred out of the city, so they urgently need a replacement.

"Everybody is trying to find ways to keep the doors open and keep costs down, but we're almost to the point where we can't cut anymore," Lett said.

For more information or to offer assistance, call Lett at 770-787-8519.

News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.