SPECIAL REPORT: Breaking down homelessness

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- Around the holiday season, homelessness is often a topic of conversation. As the holiday season fades, it's important to keep the homeless conversation going.

In this special report, 13 News Reporter, Kelly Dean, dives into the stereotypes of homelessness, tells some stories and investigates the root of the problem, and how our community is helping.

Supporting yourself can be difficult. In Kentucky, the minimum wage is $7.25. If you work that rate at full time, you'll make $1,160 monthly, and that's before taxes. Consider now budgeting for only the necessities like rent (public housing, so cheapest option), food, utilities, transportation and phone.

After crunching some numbers, that would leave a person with about $450 of disposable income. That may sound like a bit, but these are numbers before taxes.

Often times, homeless people say they feel judged, overlooked and even labeled.

"I walked in there and I could feel people looking at me, I try to keep it out of my self-conscious, but it's a little hard," said Thomas Swingle.

"They look at being homeless as possibly just drugs, they don't look at it as like it could be a family issue, even college students as myself," said LaDonna Miller.

"Everybody thinks I'm just out here to just to score money to get high, do this do that. No, I'm out here to survive," adds Swingle.

Homelessness is a national issue, also prevalent right here in our community.

"At any given time, I don't think anyone knows the exact numbers of how many folks there are on the streets in Bowling Green," said Sharli Rogers, Chair at Room In the Inn.

Regardless of the circumstance and despite mental illness as a large factor, research shows that the root of the issue boils down to low income and high cost of living.

"I'm a double major, I have a minor. There are times when the money's not able to come in," said Miller.

"I love it when they offer me work because I don't want to be labeled as a bum," said Swingle.

"One thing that's undermined is the cyclical factors of it- like how in relation to the economy's doing. We've seen since 2008, homelessness has started to rise, and so when crisis occurs then we see homelessness rising too," said Ryan Depp, founder of Ryan's Making A Difference Outreach.

On a chilled winter evening, the homeless gather outside Room In The Inn, waiting until 5 p.m. for the doors to open. Some rely on the organization to find a warm place to lay their head at night.

"It's usually the same faces, but of course we'll always have new people come in and out, and then some people disappear you just never know," said Sara Beth Huston, volunteer at Room In The Inn.

The program buses them to various churches that are willing to open their doors.

"Depending on the congregation, they sort of make the rules. Last night, one of our churches, they take everybody, so we like nights like that. We don't like to turn anyone away," said Huston.

Other homeless folks find their own means of survival.

"I try to sleep some place where the police can see me, because I mean well, they're there for my protection," explained Swingle.

Swingle is not able to utilize shelters because of his pup, Starr who he calls his companion.

"Before the dog, I couldn't care less, but when she came into my life and started growing on me, she's my baby," he says.

"Through the kindness of strangers, Starr and I are staying here," said Swingle outside of his motel room.

The community does offer quite a bit of options for the homeless. Other services in the area to help the homeless include the Salvation Army's Center of Hope Shelter which has 75 beds. Hotel Inc. also provides various community services and programs.

Local organization, Ryan's Making A Difference Outreach, feeds the homeless a meal every Saturday at the public library.

"I came through Bowling Green, and I walked through the town and I love this city. I love the people here, they're really good people," said Swingle.

At the end of the day, homelessness continues to be an issue that is not going away any time soon.

"Wealth being concentrated into the hands of the few and then how we have enough food to feed everyone, yet billion of people are going hungry," said Depp.

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