Through the generosity of the community as well as hard work and creativity on the part of staff and volunteers, residents at Hesed House of Hope in Lincolnton now have several additional benefits available to them. While there is no monetary fee associated with staying at the Hesed House or utilizing what the shelter has to offer, it isn’t, in any respects, a free ride.
“We’ll give everybody an opportunity,” Hesed House director John Hall said. “I feel like everybody deserves a chance. If they come and knock on the door and say that they really want to try, if I have a bed open, I’ll give them that mercy and that grace and love. I have a house meeting with all of the residents once a month and I tell them that they make the best out of this chance that they’ve got. Four months goes by quick.”
Before anyone can enter Hesed House, intake volunteers perform drug and alcohol tests, scan for hidden weapons and check the person against a sexual predator data base. If drug or alcohol tests are failed, the individual can’t stay at the shelter.
Hall believes that there has to be some “push back”in helping homeless people. For some time now, Hall and residents have been doing outreach to the tent community living in and around Lincolnton.
“We give plates of food out to the tent community every night but about a month ago, we started making it a requirement that they have to come in to one of our classes,” he said. “We pushed back a little bit. You’ve got to show us something before we give you something.”
Transportation to and from work and appointments has become a little easier for residents. A van was donated last summer by Hulls Grove Baptist Church to be used to take residents to work and back.
“We also partnered with DSS to reimburse Hesed House for expenses incurred when the shelter’s van is used to take residents to work,”Hesed House chairman of the board Alex Patton said. “The community has really supported the Hesed House.”
The Leadership Lincoln Graduating Class of 2019 chose Hesed House as their class project. They raised money to purchase 10 new bicycles to be utilized by residents as a means of transportation to get to work, appointments or for recreation. Residents have to check out the bicycles, with a lock and a helmet.
In addition to the bicycles, dog crates were purchased by the Leadership Lincoln group to be used to contain pets belonging to residents overnight.
“Our future goal is to have an enclosed dog park with a cement pad with separate kennels so when we do have a resident who doesn’t feel comfortable leaving their dog tied up, there will be a safe and secure place for them,” Hall said. “We also want to pursue having companionship or therapy dogs so a resident can take an animal for a day, use the park to walk the animal, train it, feed it and possibly when that resident moves out, they can adopt the pet. We’re also looking at partnering with a ministry that puts up fences for dogs living on chains to get the fencing put up.”
For the second year, a small garden was planted and is being tended to by Hesed House residents. Throughout the summer, residents are able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden.
Ground is currently in the process of being cleared by a volunteer with the intention of putting in a nature trail for residents, community members and Hesed volunteers to utilize. The trail, which will be about a mile long, goes down to a creek. There are already trails through the woods from Hesed House to Main Street that residents utilize to come to and from the shelter.
“It will be a place that our residents can go during the day when they’re waiting for the shelter to open to get out of the heat,” Hall said. “It’ll be a natural setting where they can relax. We’ve partnered with a Baptist mission camp in Shelby and they’re building six wooden benches that will go along the trail and throughout the future playground park.”
Hall has applied for a grant through the Foundation for the Carolinas to purchase playground equipment to be utilized by the children who are staying with their families at the shelter.
“Last year we had 29 children stay here,”he said. “The playground will be for them and also open to the Oaklawn community to utilize.”
While all of these amenities may seem like it’s offering a handout to homeless individuals but Hall and Patton continually refer to it as a “hand-up.”
“We want to offer them everything that they possibly need to help them get back on their feet in that four month time frame,”Patton said. “John holds them accountable each week.”
Each week, residents must complete weekly goal sheets and are required to account for everything they do Monday through Friday. In order for them to get back into the shelter each week, they must have the form completed. In addition, these forms are reviewed by Hall and another board member on a monthly basis.
“You don’t just walk up to the door here and say ‘I’m homeless, I need to get in,’” Hall said. “You have to go through an assessment and prove that you’re going to show that good faith effort.”
If an individual doesn’t comply, incident reports are filed. If a third incident report is incurred, the resident has to leave.
“We’re unlike probably any other shelter in the country with the things we’re doing,”Patton said. “We used to be a homeless shelter and we’re not anymore. We’re a place to come to if you want to really turn your life around and get a fresh start. The resources are here – whatever they need, we’ll do the best we can to get it. We want to help them to be successful, get their lives turned around and start over. That’s the goal. Homelessness doesn’t have to be a lifestyle. If we wanted to just be a homeless shelter we could fill it up tomorrow and just let them live here.”
Even if a person fails to be able to stay at the Hesed House, Patton said that they are better off than they were when the first came through the doors.
“Sometimes it’s just planting a seed and further down the road, that seed gets watered and they become a fruitful, productive citizen,”he said. “You ever know what impact long term you may have on someone. A lot of them don’t get homeless in a day, it’s like an addiction. You don’t become an addict in a day and you don’t get clean in a day. It’s a process and we are part of that process. Sometimes we’re the beginning phase and sometimes we get to see the end of it when someone does get a house and a job. That makes it all worthwhile. The community invests a lot in this place and I think the people who stay here realize that.”