Lunchtime at The Journey Home outreach center on West Castle Street in Murfreesboro is jam-packed with dozens of diners bustling in and out of the community café.
A diverse crowd fills the small dining room. There’s a middle-aged grandmother, a mother with a young child, two men carrying all their belongings in a backpack, among others teetering on the edge of homelessness.
Geneva Poss, director of housing at The Journey Home, stops to check on one of the tables.
“You doing OK today?”
Through the café doors, clients watch the clock for their time slots to shower. Others wait for meetings to discuss support services. In the basement, a family rummages through the clothes closet for their children.
“We take care of basic needs and help people stabilize their situation,” explained Scott Foster, executive director of the nonprofit he founded in 2006. “We then build relationships with them to move forward and back into community life.”
Every nook and cranny of the aging facility is filled with purpose, whether it’s storage, services or programming.
And there’s still not enough room.
“We just need the space to be able to impact the people who need our services,” said Lis Couser, the facility’s development director. “Right now we operating in such small space, we can do one thing or other thing but can’t have all services going on at same time.”
Plans are well underway for the construction of a two-story, 23,400-square-foot outreach center and family housing facility that will be located on Old Salem Road near the intersection of Middle Tennessee Boulevard.
Journey Home’s new center will place programs and services under one roof, operating without juggling time and space. The new facility will also see the addition of a mental and medical health center, as well as a chapel.
Land for the $5 million project has been purchased, and nearly $1.5 million has been raised. The nonprofit will need $2 million more before reaching out to a charitable foundation to supplement the final funding.
“We already have permits and plans all ready to go as soon as the community steeps up,” Foster said.
Stable housing central to mission
While food, clothing and support services are important offerings at The Journey Home, providing stable housing is at the heart of the Christian nonprofit’s mission.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that probably a quarter or more of the homeless population is made up of families with minor children,” Foster said. “That’s where cycles of homelessness begin, when children are not provided opportunities to live in stability, that tends to perpetuate itself.”
Part of that mission will be fulfilled with the 10 short-term family housing units within the new facility. They will serve as a bridge to move people from homelessness to permanent housing in the community, Foster said.
“They will have a safe place to be over a period of two to three months while they are working with case coaches on site and putting together all the resources they need for future sustainability,” Foster said.
Journey Home operates 30 properties for transitional and supportive rehousing of families and individuals transitioning into stable living situations. Rent for these units is far below market value, making it possible for clients to afford food, clothing, medication and other life expenses.
The nonprofit also has grant funding to work within the open market to supplement housing costs for families who are struggling to pay the rising rental prices. Three-bedroom homes in Rutherford County average $1,550-$1,600 a month, and prices are rising weekly.
“As new residents have moved in and there’s been a demand for housing, we’ve responded to it by building a lot of big single-family homes and a lot of big nice apartment communities with a lot of amenities,” Foster said.
“They are nice, but they are very expensive. What they haven’t done is build anything in the middle.”
Experts suggest housing should cost around 30% of income. So a family paying $1,600 a month rent would need to bring in $4,800 a month.
Gross income for an individual making $15 an hour is roughly $2,400 a month. The inflated rental market leaves many families paying 50% to 70% of income on housing, Foster said.
“That makes it to where they absolutely can’t pay for other basic needs. They’re trading a roof over their heads for medicine, proper nutrition, clothing, transportation,” Foster said.
One crisis can send a family on a downward spiral into homelessness, which is what Foster said The Journey Home sees regularly. Working families are then forced live in cars, stay with family members or reside in exorbitantly priced weekly motel rentals that keep them in a vicious cycle of unstable housing.
“We try to move these families back into housing as quickly as possible,” Couser said. “If you don’t make that transition quickly, then what you start doing is adding to generational homelessness.”
Unstable housing is one of the major adverse childhood experiences (ACE), as outlined by the CDC, that predicts the overall success of children into adulthood. Three ACEs significantly puts children at risk for unhealth behaviors in adulthood, chronic health conditions and a lower life expectancy.
“We just can’t let our most vulnerable population go in a direction that is not going to end up good for them,” Couser said. “Sometimes all they need is a little bit extra to get them going in an upward mobility.”
The Journey Home also offers supportive housing for the chronically homeless who struggle with mental and physical disabilities who can’t be served by the mainstream housing programs.
“That way they’re not on the street making people feel uncomfortable and it actually gives them quality of life, and it’s a proven cost effective means to reduce the financial burden on the community,” Foster said.
Foster hopes to build 15 to 20 units where a case manager monitors those in supportive housing.
“I’ve found most people need somebody to stand with them and be a support network,” Foster said. “Sometimes a little financial assistance can go a long way. We won’t want to do for somebody what they can do for themselves.”
The Journey Home fundraiser
What: The Journey Home will host a fish fry. Donations benefit the ministry. Sponsorships start at $250.
When: May 7 (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Where: Lighthouse Baptist, 3145 N. Thompson Lane in Murfreesboro.
More information: Visit lovegodservepeople.org
Volunteer opportunities with The Journey Home include:
The community cafe: Five to 10 volunteers are needed to prepare and serve breakfast, lunch and supper seven days a week.
Clothes closet: Sort, organize and assist community members with finding free clothing and supplies. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Building and maintenance: Handyman volunteers are needed to repair and maintain housing units and the outreach center, with room for a variety of skill levels. Hours are flexible.
Outreach Center: Volunteers are needed to help with general office work, client service tasks, cleaning, organizing and other light office duties between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Off-site projects: Want to help from the comfort of your home? Send holiday cards, thank yous and notes of encouragement.
For more information, contact Lis Couser at [email protected] or 615-624-4347.
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: A quarter of homeless are families. Here’s how you can help