MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon’s homeless shelter, housed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church parish house on East High Street, is beginning its third month of nightly operation.
The shelter houses four to five men each night, according to the volunteers who staff it. The male-only shelter was designated as such by volunteers because of lack of space that could be partitioned to house families and women with children. Women and families who come to the shelter for aid are referred to Interchurch or given a voucher for a stay at a local motel.
Volunteer Kim Bradley said the work at the shelter is rewarding and enjoyable.
“I work during the week on the 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift,” she said. “On that shift, we get to know the guys, so that’s the shift I prefer. The guys have become comrades, friends with each other. One man has a truck, so he takes them all to Wal-Mart or they listen to his radio. I really like the guys. They laugh and tell jokes. They’ve become a group, which is neat because they all need someone.”
The men have different reasons they must stay at the shelter, said Bradley and fellow volunteer Randy Canterbury. They are veterans, laid off from their jobs or unable to find a job, and some have mental health issues. One man, from another city, is employed and is saving toward being able to move his family here from northern Ohio.
“These guys have just slipped through the cracks. They all have great stories,” said Bradley. “They really aren’t all that different from anyone else. I think they feel the shelter is a good, safe place where someone will take care of them. They’re always hungry when they come in, so we fix them a snack. [One volunteer] makes their beds. [Another volunteer] brings in pizza once a week. They love that.”
Canterbury said one man fell victim last week to the mental illness from which he suffers, and frightened the volunteers and the other homeless men before ending up in the Knox Community Hospital emergency room.
“I went down to the shelter [the next night],” said Canterbury, “to make sure things started out smoothly and to relieve not only the volunteers but the guests of what happened. The guys were ... reassured that things were back to normal. I took the time to talk to each person privately, volunteers as well as guests, to reassure them that last night was over and that this is a safe place.”
The Rev. R. Keith Stuart, another volunteer, said the shelter has received many donations of personal items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, gloves, hats, towels and such.
“We don’t need any more items at this time,” said Stuart, “but financial contributions are always welcome. St. Paul’s has a separate account just for the shelter. Donors can send checks to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; mark ‘homeless shelter’ in the subject line.”
“We give some of our funds back to Interchurch, Salvation Army and other agencies who also help the homeless,” said Bradley.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the other volunteers,” she added, “but I really like talking to the guys. They’re very smart people. One spends his entire day at the library, and he knows so much.”
Canterbury said he enjoys the interaction, too.
“[One man] had no gloves and I ... got him gloves, socks and a note pad. He loves to write so he was happy. I get really tired of all the organizational stuff there is to be done, but when I go down and talk to the guys, I really feel closer to God.”