Homeless shelter underway for Macon County
Things have been moving quickly for New Hope Center in Franklin. Just a few months ago, the homeless shelter was merely a vague idea in the back of Lowell Monteith’s mind, an awareness that there was a need for some way to help the homeless of Macon County. He’d first witnessed the need during his time at Lifespring Community Church, where he and his wife used to run a soup kitchen.
“We started getting kind of an influx of homeless folks here in Macon County that were coming here to eat,” Monteith said. “I started building relationships with them. I really started to have a heart for what was going on with them, and I wanted to see what I could do to help.”
He tried a few things — letting them stay the night at his house, putting them up in the church — but those were all short-term solutions.
Then, “The Lord woke me up with the blueprint for that [New Hope] program about four months ago,” said Monteith, who pastors Father’s House Church in Franklin. “I sat up in bed to write it down because it was coming as fast as I could write.”
What he ended up writing was the outline of a six-month program to get homeless men off the streets and started on a vocational career.
“Our goal is to see them leave with money in their hand,” Monteith said.
To start out with, homeless men — though Monteith would like to see a second shelter for women and children open later, the bulk of the homeless population is male — will be able to stay at the shelter for two days to check out the program, get out of the cold and decide if they want to be part of New Hope. At the end of two days, they’ll have to make a decision: either move on or commit to a six-month program designed to lift them out of homelessness.
“I’m not interested in just giving someone somewhere to sleep,” Monteith said. “I want to see lives changed for the kingdom of heaven, and so that takes a commitment on my part and my group and on their part.”
Homeless people will not have to be residents of Macon County to enter the program but will have to be sober when they enter, as well as submitting to a drug test. At the end of 30 days, they’ll have to test clean of any drug traces in their system.
The program itself will begin with one month of what Monteith refers to as “spiritual rebuilding.” That segment will include “biblical truths about Jesus and his love,” according to New Hope’s vision statement. It will include teaching about the gospel message as well as a pep talk of sorts.
“They’re living on the outskirts of our very beautiful and blessed town because society has convinced them that they’re not worthy of love or having a meaningful life,” said Monica Collier, treasurer and secretary of the New Hope board.
The goal of that first month is to combat those beliefs of worthlessness, and the teaching will go hand-in-hand with service to the community itself. In addition to four hours of teaching each day, people in the program will spend several hours doing chores such as cutting firewood and raking for people in the community.
“The goal is to keep them occupied as much as possible and to keep their mind on things above,” Monteith said.
After the first month, people in the program will move into the vocational training phase. They’ll get instruction on skills such as writing a resume, managing money and using a computer, as well as ongoing daily Bible study, prayer and worship.
They’ll also have the chance for vocational training in fields such as construction, plumbing, accounting, cabinetry and landscaping.
“We [will] have 10 to 12 different trades that are going to step in and start to teach basic trade skills,” Monteith said. “As we’re training them, we’re going to be doing our community outreach program so they can get hands-on training in the trade they’re going to be stepping into.”
Students will learn about the trade with weekly classes, and they’ll get to practice their skills by doing work for people in the community who need it done but perhaps can’t afford to pay a professional to do it.
“Say someone needs a deck torn down because it’s rotten and falling apart,” Monteith said, giving an example. “We’ll take guys who want to learn carpentry out to that house to build a deck.”
They’ll be able to sign up for one trade or many, depending on what interests them, and Monteith said the classes will be open to the community at large as space allows.
“It’s going to be an awesome asset to this community when it gets fully operational,” he said.
A work bank for local employers will also be part of the program, so the hope is that New Hope residents will be able to start working in some capacity soon after the vocational part of the program begins. A built-in savings program will ensure that some of the money is saved as a cushion for when the six months of residency are up.
Though the exact details are still being worked out, the basic idea is that when someone gets a job, the employer will communicate to the ministry how much the worker is making. Workers will be expected to give 25 percent back to the ministry to fund its operations, and another 25 percent will go into a savings account, also organized through the ministry, to be given back to the individual once they complete the six-month program. Half of the income will go directly to the worker.
“It gives the employer a little bit of comfort knowing they’re not feeding an addiction and it gives the ones who are part of the program a little accountability,” said Monteith, who owns Monteith Construction in Franklin.
“As a contractor myself, I’m concerned about just picking them up and working them and handing them cash, especially if I know they have an addiction of some sort,” he said.
After graduating from the six-month program, the plan is that participants will leave with the cash from their savings account, new trade skills, a job and more steady financial footing.
“The goal is to see their lives changed,” Monteith said. “They might show up as a homeless man, but as soon as they sign up for this program they’re not homeless.”
They won’t get kicked to the curb as soon as six months are up, however. Program graduates will be part of a discipleship group with weekly meetings to keep them focused and accountable. Volunteers in the program will be expected to maintain contact with program graduates, checking up on them periodically to make sure that they’re doing well and not falling back into any bad choices that facilitated homelessness in the first place.
Definitely a need
All that’s in the future, as New Hope Center still needs about $64,000 to renovate and open its facility in the old Rexel building at 123 West Palmer St. Long-term, the group is looking to its thrift store, now open in a white building next to Ace Hardware Store, to fund its operations, but with winter descending Monteith’s heard lots of demand to have the shelter open yesterday.
“I’ve already gotten calls from the Red Cross,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls from Macon Program for Progress, I’m getting calls from REACH. I hear every single day about another person that’s homeless that needs somewhere to stay.”
According to a 2011 survey, Monteith said, about 200 homeless people live in Macon County. However, he said it’s likely the number is closer to 300 given that homeless people are hard to track down and not always willing to admit that they’re homeless.
“We had a couple come into the thrift store the other day that were living in a tent way out on [N.C.] 28,” Monteith said. “They have no ride, they have no phone, they have no heat, they have no water or electricity. They’re just living in a tent. It’s sad because if something were to happen, nobody would know for days. Nobody knows those people are homeless because they were too proud to tell anybody until they got to a point where they had nothing left.”
He’s heard some criticism, he said, that Macon County doesn’t really have a huge homeless population and that the program could attract more homeless people to Macon County. However, he said, he believes that the commitment required to be part of the program and the transformative power of it will keep that from happening.
“Whether we like it or not, these people are here and it’s our job to take care of them, and if we’re the only place in the state that can provide this service, I don’t care where they came from,” Monteith said. “It doesn’t matter because either they’re going to come here and be in my program for six months and completely rehabilitate their life and go back where they came from or they’re going to rehabilitate their life and [contribute to Macon County]. It’s not a homeless shelter. It’s a life rehabilitation center.”
To donate or volunteer toward the New Hope Center, contact 828.552.4976, 123 West Palmer St., Franklin, N.C. 28734 or www.newhopecenternc.org.