Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you are not going to stay where you are." -John Pierpont Morgan

Alongside the service road in St. Clair, MO sits what used to be the Scully Restaurant and Motel. Now, it Franklin County's one and only homeless shelter.

Welcome to the Agape House.

While Franklin County has a few organizations that provide emergency shelter, they are usually for one specific purpose, such as victims of domestic abuse, and are very short term.  The Agape House is the only organization that provides shelter to anyone in Franklin County who is homeless.  At the same time, the Agape House isn't your typical homeless shelter.  Clients are required to follow the shelter's rules and work to support themselves.  Things like working, saving money, not having any drugs or alcohol on sight, and following the 10:00 p.m. curfew are all required of the residents, but the most important requirement is that they have to acknowledge the reason they became homeless and work to solve this problem.  For this reason, many people who need assistance will not stay at the Agape House.  It is often difficult to admit that we are part of our own problems, and for those who are homeless it is no different.  Because of this, some only stay a day before continuing on their way.

But, for the number of people who do this, there are many more who stay and change their lives.  In an interview with the Missourian newspaper, Jim Armistead of the Agape House spoke of the 25,902 individuals who have spent time there between 1985 and 2012.  People from all backgrounds, all walks of life, have decided to put in the immense time and effort it requires to rebuild their lives, and turn towards the Agape House for guidance.  Besides providing housing, the Agape House helps recipients pay for utilities and medication, manages a food pantry, and even supplies clients with clothing and household items that have been lost in disasters.  From single moms to families, attorneys to unemployed, recently released from jail to flood or fire victims, the Agape House reshapes over a thousand lives each year.

The only problem: the amount of people the Agape House doesn't get the chance to affect, but instead must turn away.  The building only contains 8 rooms--all of which are continually occupied on a first come, first serve basis.  The shelter receives 10-20 calls a day as people who are trying to escape their situations search for a place to rebuild.  Some call once a day, in the hopes that a room has been vacated; others are first-time callers searching for a safe haven; but all deserve the chance at a new life.  To do this, every penny that comes in the door is put towards helping the homeless, and every worker at the Agape House is a volunteer.  Even so, the shelter relies solely on private donations, and many people in our county have no idea the shelter even exists, much less the magnitude of change it provides.  All the while, homelessness rates are on the rise.  Kathy Jennemann, a volunteer at the shelter, described it this way: "Being homeless isn't just being in a shelter.  It's living with grandma, or other relatives...it's not having a permanent place to call home, and I don't think people realize how broad that is, because it's a big problem--and it's getting worse."

So here's my question:  Who are we to not help them rise? Where would we be if no one ever gave us a second chance in our lives? What if the first time you fell down and decided to get back up, no one would give you their hand? The clients of the Agape House are not strangers; they are community.  They are someone's family, someone's reason to smile today, someone's friend or neighbor or hero.

And to every one of us in this community, they are our future.

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