Friday, January 28, 2011

Newspaper article: "Dream Center plans area homeless shelter"

(This article originally appeared on the front page of the Martinsville Bulletin on Friday, January 28, 2011.  It can be viewed by clicking HERE.)

Dream Center plans area homeless shelter

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Organizers of The Community Dream Center say the area may have a homeless shelter up and running in three months.

Michael Harrison, the pastor of Community Fellowship in Collinsville and a member of the Dream Center board, said the group is close to being able to buy property for such a shelter.

A count in 2009, conducted by the West Piedmont Better Housing Coalition, found 54 homeless people in Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties. The annual count was conducted Wednesday for 2011.

Harrison envisions having a shelter for the homeless and eventually a halfway house to guide people toward living on their own. That would be largely for "people coming out of jail, (off) drugs, alcohol, all other kinds of life situations. ... This is Christ-centered. It's all about pointing people in the right direction," he said.

Harrison and the other Dream Center organizers do not want to duplicate other services available locally, he said.

Instead, they are "trying to fill the gaps in the community where services are not being provided," he said. This area "needs shelter for men, and shelter for intact families."

There are good shelter opportunities here for women, such as victims of domestic violence, he added.

Organizers hope to "partner with other local organizations and churches to help the hurting people in the community," Harrison said.

"There are plenty of homeless people in the community," he added. He explained that many people don't have homes of their own but may be sleeping in the living rooms of acquaintances. Others stay in abandoned properties, and others continue to live in their own homes which may not have heat or have been condemned.

There even are "some folks that live on the street from time to time. ... The homeless population is growing because of the economic situation," he said.

The board of directors of The Community Dream Center (TCDC) had its first official meeting Monday, Harrison said. He is a member of the board, along with Tom Pratt, a vice president of Nationwide Homes; Cindy Hall; Jim Farrell of Lester Properties; Valerie Simpson of GenEdge Alliance; Bruce Elgin, an accountant; and Michael Waddell of the Boys and Girls Clubs. Pratt is the chairman, and Hall is the vice chairman.

The interim director will be John DeOms, a retired police officer from Baltimore.

Organizers are finalizing an application for 501(3)c status as a federally recognized nonprofit organization.

The group has been looking at properties to buy and has identified four sites that have potential, Harrison said. Local building contractors have offered to volunteer their time to make repairs or remodeling that may be necessary.

The group has raised $65,000 through donations, DeOms said. A total of $200,000 is needed, he added.

Harrison said the group hopes to seek assistance through private foundations. "I don't go for a lot of federal money, just because they tie your hands" in regard to including a religious aspect, he added.

"Our prayer is that we'd be up by the first quarter of this year," he said.

Community Fellowship a Baptist Church has a regular Sunday attendance of at least 200. It formed in 2006 and meets in the Collinsville Shopping Center.

The Dream Center is a separate entity from the church, but many of the people involved with the Dream Center are involved with the church, Harrison explained.

Members of the congregation began helping feed the homeless in Roanoke in January 2009, he said. Once "they learned what they were doing," they began serving free community meals at their church twice a month. They also open a free clothing closet.

The meals are supported in part by a yearly grant from World Hunger Funds through the North American Mission Board, Harrison said. "It doesn't cost a whole lot to feed people. It's mostly time and effort."

The Dream Center aims to be a welcoming place for people in need. It already works regularly with many local agencies and groups including CONTACT, the Salvation Army and First United Methodist Church to help people find services they need, he said.

"There are a lot of good food pantries" in the area, but "there's not a mobile food pantry, and that's one of our dreams" also, he added.

Harrison said the idea for a Dream Center hit him about a year and a half ago. "There are 150 Dream Centers around the nation. The Los Angeles Dream Center is our partner." Its website is dreamcenter.org.

A fundraiser for the Dream Center will be held March 5, when TCDC and Citizens Against Family Violence will hold a "Hope 4 the Homeless: Sprinting for a Solution" 5-kilometer run. All proceeds will be shared equally by the two organizations.

Sponsorships in the amounts of $250, $150 and $100 will be available through Feb. 3. Early race registration costs $20, and registration at the race costs $25. The race will begin at the city garage on Fishel Street. For more information, call 647-8231.

There are other ways for people to help. "We can always use clothes and food," Harrison said. The group also is collecting and storing furniture for the future home.

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