COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A few middle school students in Columbus experienced firsthand what homelessness looks like in their own city today.
Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman, along with a few of his deputies, took some of their junior marshals on a mission to places where homeless people live in the area. Kids as young as 7th grade visited tent cities to hand out blankets, warm hats, and care packages with things like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Other concerned citizens joined in the effort by handing out food from the back of a car trunk.
Countryman says he wants the young students to witness homelessness, and understand what is happening in their community so they can grow up to have a positive effect.
What the Marshal did not expect was just how much he would be impacted by the experience himself.
"I knew we had a problem, but I did not know it was this bad," said Countryman. "This is really, really bad. I will contact the Homeless Network next week to find out what we can do to bring a greater awareness to the homelessness crisis that we have in Columbus."
Standing under a bridge lined with makeshift shelters and scattered possessions, Countryman addressed his deputies saying, "This is why, even when we evict someone, we treat them like our parents, like we would want our loved ones to be treated, because when people don't have some place to go, this is it."
The Junior Marshals Leadership Program is a part every middle school in the Muscogee County School District. It's a two year mentoring program with 120 committed students. They use the acronym CLEFT to describe what their mission is about. CLEFT stands for citizenship, leadership, education, fun and team work.
Today's project was part of the citizenship aspect of CLEFT. Countryman intends for the homeless outreach to be a part of the program every year with hopes that more and more students attend each time.