Lincoln County’s only homeless shelter is working toward an expansion. Hesed House of Hope has come a long way since it opened its doors in 2012. In 2008, there wasn’t a homeless shelter in Lincoln County at all. A group of individuals including Cathy Davis, Franklin Lowery, Tony Carpenter, Kathy Rhine, Karen Carnes, Marti and Robert Hovis, Carl Higgenbathum, Cristina Arlow and Donna Beal and her three daughters camped out in cardboard boxes on a cold winter night in December 2007. That got the attention that was necessary to start the ball rolling to help Lincoln County’s homeless population
Until enough money was raised to construct a permanent shelter, those needing a place to stay at night were rotated between five area churches until the permanent facility at Ann Gaither Court opened.
Now a year-round shelter, up until October 2017, it was only open from the beginning of October until April. While homelessness may be thought of as being limited to single adults, numerous families have come through Hesed House, according to Hesed House director John Hall. Last year alone, 29 children stayed at the shelter with their guardians. Because the shelter splits the room with women on one side and men on the other, the children have to stay either with their mother or their father on that side of the room. If there’s a baby in the family, the crying can be disturbing to the other residents.
“We’ve seen both single females with children and moms and dads with children,” Hall said. “Homelessness goes to the fullest extent of complete families to broken families. The biggest issue when families come in is the stress it puts on them not having the family together as a unit. A young child having to be separated, even just a matter of feet, is a big deal for them. Getting up in the middle of the night in a dark room in a strange area is very scary anyway.”
This proposed expansion, which has been dubbed “Hope Rising Featuring Joshua’s Journey” has a benefactor who learned of Hesed House while taking part in Leadership Lincoln. Tracie Johnson wasn’t even aware of the homeless shelter until she was part of the 2019 graduating class of Leadership Lincoln, which chose Hesed House as their class project.
“Our family has always been involved in fundraising for the community,” Johnson said. “I was recommended to take part in Leadership Lincoln but I wasn’t really sure it was the right time given the recent loss of my son, Joshua. The first time that I saw Hesed House, I was dumbfounded that I didn’t know what our community offered. There’s so many more resources that people need to know about.”
As a young adult, Joshua was injured and prescribed opioids to help with the pain. It became an addiction that Joshua and his family fought for 10 years. Throughout these 10 years, Johnson conducted extensive research to find resources for her son but was unable to find him the help he needed. Joshua committed suicide in 2018.
“It was both enlightening to me that our community cares so much and at the same time, I wondered why do we not have these resources readily available and why is the knowledge not out there to other members of our community,” she said. “Joshua was never homeless because his family supported him, but he could have been because the road of addiction can cause you loss over and over again. My son did long-term recovery nine times in 10 years but it’s when you come out of recovery, a lot of times, support is lacking.”
Initially, Johnson, who is a designer, thought about adding more beds to Hesed House, but, while working with Hall on a redesign, she realized the shelter could be expanded from the front, adding more than just additional beds.
“My heart is to give back to the community and I am always searching for ways to bring awareness of the disease of addiction to light and to reduce the stigma,” she said.
Johnson has been reaching out to her connections made through 20 years in the design and construction industry to get the project done through donations as much as possible. She’s also making a monetary contribution in memory of her Joshua.
The expansion will be done to the front part of the shelter and will allow for two family suites. In addition, there will be space for a bigger lobby so when residents come in, they won’t have to sit on the floor or stand up waiting on intake. The new lobby could also be used as overflow shelter during extreme weather. There will also be new, bigger office with separate intake sections that will be more private than what is in place now. If families are not staying at the shelter, the suites can be used for overflow as well.
“We haven’t raised the money, we’re stepping out on faith and believing this is what God wants us to do,” Hesed House chairman of the board Alex Patton said. “A lot of families are one bad thing away from being homeless. We want to have that family environment so they can stay together. It’s better for them and it’s better for the other residents. Hopefully the community will step up and support it and we’ll take it from there.”
There will be a ground-breaking ceremony held at Hesed House on Aug. 13 which would have been Joshua’s birthday at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited.