Dale rescue mission expands housing, services
OZARK, Mar 11, 2013 (Dothan Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Andy Gonzalez said his story is simple.
He said he had a job, lost it, was denied unemployment, so had to give up his apartment and find some place else to live. The matter led him to the Dale County Rescue Mission on Martin Street about a month ago, a place he said he plans to leave in about another month after he is back on his feet.
Gonzalez' story is similar to several others that mission chaplain Matt Matthews said he hears from men and families seeking shelter or food amid a challenging job market and increases in costs.
Matthews said the mission's housing quarters and soup kitchen, which serves three meals a day, are among many services that have had to either expand or completely transform in order to respond to an increasing need for food and shelter.
"Hunger is a problem that is getting worse and government assistance can't completely solve it," Matthews said.
"A lot of people have become jobless, divorced or cut off from government assistance, and some are just trying to get back on their feet after being sick or are victims of circumstance. Food stamps run out and people are still hungry. We see the third week of the month almost twice as many than we do at the beginning."
Matthews said two office spaces were recently renovated into living quarters to accommodate the 10 to 15 men the mission houses at any given time. Job training and legal support services have been implemented between the time the mission's residents volunteer at the mission's bargain center on North Union Avenue.
Matthews said the missions seek to assist residents with finding employment, whether it is a permanent position at the bargain center or elsewhere. Participants also attend church services at Arch of Oz on U.S. Highway 231 in Ozark.
About five locations are provided for transitional housing, while the mission offers bags of groceries to residents who simply need something to eat.
Matthews said the mission has operated for 24 years on donations and a significant number of volunteers. Matthews said the mission relies heavily on the Wiregrass Area Food Bank. He said First United Methodist Church collaborated its food pantry efforts with the mission in order to aid the soup kitchen and with bags of groceries the mission provides to families in need.
"We're blessed that our needs are pretty much met here," Matthews said.
"We typically like for people to be here for about six months and then go into a transition, but we don't set a time limit and we serve people every day."
While there is community support, Matthews said more is always welcome and sometimes needed.
Matthews said a shortage in facility space led to the mission turning five people away last week alone and there are currently no living quarters for women. He said the number of residents fed at the soup kitchen has increased from even six months ago.
Some residents, like 61-year-old Earl Jones, walk as many as five miles to eat a meal. Jones said he first became homeless 16 years ago after a drug addiction and divorce. He said he was homeless then for two years, eating out of a trash can until learning the mission offered meals.
He said he soon found a place to stay but that it burned down.
Since then, he said he has been blessed with odd jobs and his own home, but that he doesn't have lights or running water.
"There's no one I've seen that's as close to God as Matt, Father Tom (Dixon) and Dr. Charles Gann. They are really here to help," Jones said.
Gonzalez said he encourages the other men to set short-term and long-term goals.
"The mission should not be the end result and we're encouraged not to make it that way," he said. "It is a blessing that it is here for a transition."
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Ala.) at www.dothaneagle.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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