Miracles on the Horizon: Rowan Helping Ministries working on transitional housing

Published 12:06 am Sunday, September 25, 2022

By Elizabeth Cook
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Miracles take time.

Construction began months ago on a major expansion of Rowan Helping Ministries’ transitional housing programs and support services, well before a groundbreaking ceremony held last week.

Also underway already was fundraising for the $6 million project, dubbed Miracles on the Horizon. To date, $2.5 million has been raised, according to Kyna Grubb, executive director.

Still, there was a sense of newness and urgency as some 100 people gathered Wednesday morning beneath the Salisbury Station canopy for the public launch of the capital campaign.

Applause went up after a skid steer loader across the railroad tracks dumped a scoop of dirt at the future site of Eagles Nest III transitional housing. Officials and donors posed with ceremonial shovels.

Eagle’s Nest III is just one part of a project that will more than double the agency’s capacity to move the homeless into more stable situations.

With need seeming to grow daily, time is of the essence.

A $450,000 grant from the Veterans Administration for transitional housing adds to the urgency; it has a September 2023 construction deadline.

Grubb reminded the crowd that the agency broke ground 10 years ago for the Robertson-Stanback Center. That endeavor, called the Miracle on Long Street, expanded Rowan Helping Ministries’ shelter, kitchen and educational programs.

“Now, we are expanding our campus to surround homeless citizens with the support systems and types of housing they need so they can find their pathways to a place they can call home,” Grubb said.

“Supportive, stable and affordable housing opportunities are our Miracles on the Horizon.”

The project will add 12 transitional housing apartments and 10 permanent supportive housing units.

“More importantly,” Grubb said, “it will expand our opportunities to serve our most vulnerable neighbors who need more help and services than just a place to live.”

Peer support specialists from S&H Youth and Adult Services will be available to meet with people facing mental or emotional crises in a comfortable, calm “Living Room.” A full-time clinic operated by Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health will provide physical and mental health care.

“The need for expanded substance abuse and mental health services is critical,” she said.

Grubb acknowledged that this is a challenging time to raise money. Possible donors are grappling with inflation. Supply chain problems might slow construction.

But she has faith.

Quoting scripture, she shared words David spoke to Solomon as the young king began to build the temple for Israel.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. … Now begin the work, and the Lord will be with you.”

• • •

Wil Patterson sometimes thinks it’s the Lord is keeping him on the Rowan Helping Ministries staff for more than 20 years, because it was never his own plan. He was a theater major.

Now the agency’s housing coordinator, he works with people who can’t meet one of life’s most basic needs — a place to live.

“Right now it’s a crisis,” he said in an interview before the event started.

The reasons for homelessness are many. Addiction and mental illness often land people on the street. So does the need to escape a violent or abusive home situation.

Lately, Patterson said, rent hikes and the lack of affordable alternatives have pushed people out. He mentioned a person whose $650 rent recently doubled to $1,100 a month.

To be fair, he said, landlords may be making up for revenue lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many of them are not letting tenants renew their leases, Patterson said. Rents can go up at any time for any amount.

Some on the list for transitional housing wait in the shelter. Others may stay temporarily with family or friends. For people living on the edge, though, that kind of support system is scarce.

“Unfortunately, they have to fend for themselves,” Patterson said. “They’re just kind of out there, drifting.”

• • •

Several years ago, Jamie McKessor was one of those drifters. His life was in shambles when he entered Rowan Helping Ministries’ shelter in 2017 with only the clothes on his back.

Alcohol addiction had consumed him for years.

At the shelter, he quit drinking cold turkey and took advantage of the agency’s support services, he said.

Now 62 and in recovery, he has found his calling as a shelter attendant and his home in a studio apartment in the agency’s permanent supportive housing.

“I came here looking for a place to stay, and now I have so much more,” he told the crowd.

Later, McKessor told an interviewer he knows many are struggling. “I see a lot of despair and remorse, and I’m kind of saddened by it,” he said. “I’ve been there.”

People down on their luck can have hope, he said, The years he lost to alcoholism hold a lot of bad memories, but he’s making good memories now.

“Rowan Helping Ministries has been a blessing,” he said. “I hope to succeed and grow with them.”

• • •

Jim Greene, vice chair of the Rowan County Commission, said Rowan Helping Ministries’ work dovetails with the county’s efforts to boost the workforce.

“I’m in full support of it and I especially like the transitional program,” he said. People who can move toward more stable housing are better able to develop job skills and hold a job.

“It’s one of the best things they can do for folks that need support.”

• • •

Mayor Karen Alexander knows too well how homeless people need more than a roof over their heads. During her first term in 2016-17, she said, the city worked with a group that set a goal of getting 100 people off the streets.

“It didn’t last,” she said. The effort wasn’t sustainable without support services to help the homeless address underlying problems.

Miracles on the Horizon will address critical needs, she said. “I’m really happy it will have the support of the opioid addiction team on site,” as well as other wraparound services that Rowan Helping Ministries is bringing in partners to provide.

“It’s kind of like that journey to home,” she said. “Truly, it’s more than an overnight shelter.”

• • •

Donations to Miracles on the Horizon can be mailed to Rowan Helping Ministries at 226 N. Long St., Salisbury, NC 28144. An online giving form, as well as naming opportunities, can be found at https://rowanhelpingministries.org/capital-project/.