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New ‘Hope’ for homeless men

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By Lisa King

The nights are getting colder, the winds more biting, and the homeless men who live under bridges or in abandoned houses in Shelbyville draw their threadbare clothing more tightly around them.

People know they are there, but nobody talks about it much. Most people may have a fleeting moment of pity when they see them, but then they most likely go on their way, home to their warm houses.

But Lee Bean couldn't ignore them, and he got to work.

Now homeless men have a place to go in Shelbyville.

Last week, Bean, the minister of Dover Baptist Church in northwest Shelby County, painted a simple white cross on the door of the apartment at 523 Henry Clay Street, establishing the Open Door of Hope.

This homeless shelter for men, a first for the county, is a small, one-bedroom apartment that Bean has furnished with five bunk beds and a dining table in a kitchen.

The facility will sleep 10 men comfortably, and Bean said he could squeeze in five more, using cots and the couch.

"There are probably about 30 homeless men in Shelbyville, and I have only two so far, but the word has not gotten out yet that we are here," he said, adding the he is expecting two more to come soon.

The apartment is nothing fancy, but it is cozy, and delicious smells are there to greet people entering the apartment through the kitchen.

The shelter is staffed entirely by volunteers, Bean said, such as Bobby Wright and Connie Kelly, a volunteer who is also on the seven-member board – Jerry Smitha, Chris Barrickman, Bobby Garrett, Jim Smith and Cheryl Poe are the others – that Bean established for the shelter.

"I do the cooking around here, and whatever else needs to be done," Kelly said, placing a bowl of baked beans and a platter of barbecued chicken on the table.

Jay Holland, a tenant at the shelter, sniffed appreciatively as he helped to set the table.

"It's nice here," he said. "I was staying in a tent, but I've been here since it opened."

Holland said he fell upon hard times after his divorce, but he hopes to get back on his feet soon.

"I want to get an apartment," he said.

But for now, Holland, a native of Henry County, is out of the wind and has something to eat.

 A warm place

The shelter is open to men only from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day.

"They get up at 7 and have to be out by 8 o'clock," Bean said.

"If you show up at 6 p.m. and need a place to stay, and you're not so drunk or high that you're out of control, we'll give you a place to stay," he said. "It's on a night to night basis, so if we have 15 men show up, we'll put the names in hat and draw out 10."

In extreme cold weather, Bean said, he will consider letting some sleep on cots.

"Basically, it's just a place to have dinner and a place to sleep and take a shower," he said. "There's a guy who stays there every night to oversee them, and we feed them dinner and we offer a Bible study every night."

He said he got the idea of starting a shelter for men because homeless women and children can get help through organizations such Operation Care, but "there's nothing for the men."

Other than his shelter, Bean said he knows of no other place in the county that is established for homeless men.

 Emergency facilities

Some buildings, however, such as the Stratton Center,  have served as temporary shelters, but that is sporadic. County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said that in extreme situations, such as an ice storm or last winter's power outage, the Stratton Center could be opened to serve as a temporary shelter.

"We've got certain buildings for that in the event that we move into a winter weather emergency," he said. "We evaluate that on a case-to-case basis, so we really don't have a standing order like they do in Louisville for a certain temperature. We just get together with emergency management and we'll confer with some of the other groups in the community when we feel it's warranted, and we will make space available at that point. But we don't have a written protocol on that."

Rothenburger said if a temporary shelter is opened, that information would be announced on the radio and in the newspaper.

"Also, we would notify 911 of what buildings are open," he said.

 Small budget, big dreams

The Open Door of Hope operates strictly on a donation and volunteer basis, Bean said.

"We are on a really tight budget," he said. "Basically we just have to pay rent and utilities and liability insurance and buy supplies, so our budget is well under a thousand dollars a month."

Bean said the shelter is not a Dover Baptist Church ministry, but operates strictly on donated funds and volunteer labor.

To Kelly, 73, it's a labor of love.

In addition to cooking and doing laundry for the Open Door of Hope, Kelly, who is also the owner of Antiques for You, has been running what she calls a street ministry, Jacob's Well, for about four years.

"We work with prostitutes and drug addicts and people like that, but anybody can come," she said. "It's a chance for them to hear about Jesus, and even though they're down and out, they will reach out to somebody who shows them love."

Kelly holds her ministry on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the same apartment that houses the shelter. She said her dream one day is to combine a shelter for the homeless with one for abused animals.

"I would like to have a place in the country where they could help to take care of abused animals; that would give them something to love," she said.

Bean said that financial contributions to keep the shelter running would be extremely welcome. He would also welcome donations of toiletries and paper goods, such as plates and napkins.

"Also, we need people to prepare food and bring it in," he said.

Kelly encourages anyone who is able to do what they can, whether it be donations or volunteering.

"Because it's all about helping people," she said. "We have to work together."

    How to Help  

• Monetary donations may be sent to The Open Door of Hope, 7361 Dover Road, 40065.

• To donate items or to volunteer, contact Lee Bean at 502-552-8669.

• For information about Jacob's Well, contact Connie Kelly at 502-321-6097.