Local News

June 19, 2014

Nunn: Georgia can teach Washington

Benny Pittman was living in the homeless camp referred to as “Tent City” until it was shut down by Dalton city officials two years ago.

Pittman turned to City of Refuge in Dalton — an outreach program designed to meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of indigent or homeless families in Whitfield County — where he now pitches in wherever he can to help the agency run smoothly.

During a tour of the facility on Wednesday, Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Georgia, spoke with Pittman about his struggles and praised him for his work with City of Refuge.

“They are lucky to have you,” Nunn said. “I bet this feels like a home place for you.”

Nunn will face the winner of the July 22 Republican primary runoff between Macon businessman David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Kingston of Savannah in the general election in November. She is spending part of her campaign touring agencies across the state that focus on helping others to learn what specific problems people in the state are dealing with as well as ideas on how individuals can best work together.

City of Refuge helps provide clothes, food, warm meals, showers and temporary housing to families or individuals in need.

“My background is around building volunteers,” Nunn said following the tour. Nunn has served as CEO and president of Points of Light, a volunteer-focused organization based in Atlanta.

“There’s a lot we can learn from people working together,” Nunn said. “We don’t see enough of that in Washington (D.C.). Georgia has a lot to teach Washington.”

Nunn has visited organizations that focus on tackling poverty and dealing with housing and veterans issues. She’s hoping to learn how Congress can help the agencies without “getting in the way.”

“There are some tremendous challenges,” she said. “There are high levels of poverty. People are coming together to do something about it.”

Nunn asked City of Refuge officials if they have seen a decrease in the number of people served “post recession.”

“It varies,” Jennifer Nicholson, assistant director, replied. She said they see more people in need at the end of the month than at the beginning, when people are paid and receive food stamps.

Nunn asked for the agency’s wish list.

“A bigger facility,” Nicholson said. “We need to be able to provide more transportation. We need an emergency relief shelter for families. We have calls for that every day.”

Nunn praised City of Refuge for providing for the community despite some limitations with space.

“I am inspired by what you are doing,” she said. “I can feel it’s extraordinary.”

Following the tour, Nunn said she is concerned about the economy — in Dalton and other communities around the state. Congress can help make sure there are jobs available by investing in the right areas, including infrastructure, she said, citing the proposed deepening of the Savannah harbor to meet the growing demands of world trade as an example.

Nunn said another way to help improve the economy is to make sure people have access to adequate training, such as apprenticeship programs. She also wants to see the tax code simplified, which she says will help existing businesses succeed.

As for the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, Nunn said she approaches the topic pragmatically.

“How do we fix the things that aren’t working?” she said. “And how do we build on the things that are?”

Nunn said she’s glad to hear that some people have access to health care for the first time. But she is concerned about the costs and wants to look at introducing a more affordable tier structure. She believes Medicaid should be expanded, and she wants to see cuts made to Medicaid repealed.

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