Photo by Barry BurlesonPictured is a couple of the units at Bishop Houck New Hope Village in Holly Springs.
Homeless shelter closing this month
Bishop Houck New Hope Village is closing by the end of March, said Jeff Bell, North Mississippi facilities manager with the Department of Temporal Affairs, Catholic Diocese, Jackson.
He said the Catholic Diocese will close the homeless shelter March 15 and the thrift store on March 30.
Bell, who has helped manage the facility three years, said he was surprised by the notification that the Diocese is pulling out.
Low community involvement and financial support, the current needs of the Diocese, and lack of strong governmental network that provides access to services, transportation, and long-term placement were some of the concerns expressed in a letter from the Diocese of Jackson.
Bell said the shelter has been a success in providing a place for homeless people to stay.
"There is a need," he said. "But lack of sufficient funding is causing the Diocese to close down March 30."
The Diocese will be looking to lease the property or to sell it, Bell said.
In order to keep the shelter open, a new entity would have to come in and operate it, he said.
Bell met with Holly Springs Mayor Kelvin Buck to discuss the issue of closing.
"I was told they may be willing to sell the property or rent the facility to another organization that will manage and keep the shelter operational under a new name," Bell said. "However, the shelter requires more financial support and full-time management than our organization can provide."
Bell said he manages a number of facilities for the Diocese over North Mississippi and the shelter was to take up 20 percent of his effort with the rest being put on other facilities. But the case is the other way around, he said.
"This facility and ministry need local, financial support from the city and county governments, along with the community churches, civic organizations and businesses that will come together, manage the facility and serve the community," Bell said. "The Catholic Diocese can no longer be the main financial support and administrator for this ministry."
Is there a need for a homeless shelter in Holly Springs?
Bell said since June 2017, the shelter has received over 250 applications for assistance representing approximately 542 persons. The shelter was able to assist 284, he said.
Bell said there is a lot of interest at Christmastime, but the other 11 months of the year are important as well.
As of the first week in March, only two tenants remained at the village. One has found a new job at Marshall County Corrections and will stay in a hotel until housing is found.
The Bolivar County Community Action Agency works with the homeless and if they can qualify, the person can get help with paying a utility bill or making a rent deposit, Bell said.
"One of the biggest problems is that people who stay here try to find a place locally to live," he said. "There is not enough low-income housing available in Holly Springs."
The Diocese does believe in the ministry and recognize the need, he said, but the Diocese cannot fund the entire operations anymore.
Of those who lived in the shelter, about 20 percent were able to transition to better circumstances, Bell said.
He will continue to live at the village. He is a reserve police officer with the Holly Springs Police Department.
Bell, who has a construction background, said someone who has lots of energy and works with government agencies to help the homeless get jobs and food stamps and other support is needed to manage the shelter.
And a backward glance finds nothing to regret.
"We don't regret doing this," Bell said. "It's been God's ministry, whether it is government or another church group who can pull this off."
The thrift store has been a success, he said.
As the thrift store shuts down, a ministry in Ukraine is searching through the clothing for items to send.
And there is food still on the shelves that will go to those in need.
Bell said it was a personal shock to receive the email from the Diocese that the shelter will close.
"I understand it (why), but it was a shock," he said.
Only in the last month has the thrift store gotten connected with organizations that provide new products that are sold at 25 cents on the dollar. The new products came from broken cases of products or damaged new items that could not be sold in a store, he said.
Bell met with the local board of directors for the shelter to discuss the closing. He said the group is in agreement that the need is great and the community may not have known about the need for financial support. Bell accepted responsibility for not getting the word out until the final days. Before the local board is dissolved at the end of the month, members are reaching out to the community to spread the word and initiate discussions on the possibilities of reopening the shelter in the near future. Bell has a meeting with the county officials later this week.
Many local businesses, churches, individuals and families have supported the shelter over the past three years. Bell said he is extremely grateful for the support Bishop Houck New Hope Village has received from the Catholic Diocese of Jackson and the many friends.
"Thank you and God bless," he said.