Originally created 07/30/05

Ministry provides retreat for homeless



Escaping inside a cool, dark movie theater seems all the more inviting the hotter the sun is outside, but the heat had little to do with the eight to 10 homeless men quietly watching a movie Tuesday afternoon at Mercy Ministries day center.

Most of the 25 to 30 men who pass through the center each day appreciate what it gives them, said Sidney Drummond, a once-homeless man who manages the center on Laney-Walker Boulevard.

"They have a place to go and are not on the streets, not being harassed," he said. "It gives them peace of mind because they know what they're going to do for the day and that they have a place to rest."

Eric Brooks, 42, left Atlanta a month ago when work got too slow and went to the Salvation Army in Augusta. He said Mercy Ministries has been great but would be better if it offered more spiritual help and more activities and less TV time. Mercy also desperately needs a bigger building, he said.

Founders Fran and Jerry Oliver agree and are considering one now, but they need to raise about $40,000 to cover the first year's operating expenses and a lease. They could make it happen with about $5,000 to $6,000 and pledges of about $3,000 a month, said Mrs. Oliver, who also is pursuing grants.

The couple want to get churches to pledge, and they will make the rounds in search of federal grants next year.

"That is where we would go last. They are very restrictive. The only restriction we have is our faith," Mrs. Oliver said.

Instead of the present 900-square-foot center, the new building would offer about 20,000 square feet, half of it already in usable condition. The remainder could be renovated and divided into apartments.

The Olivers first became aware of the homeless while attending a downtown Augusta church a few years ago. Many of the homeless they've met are worn out after doing hard labor most of their lives, she said. They have diabetes or heart problems and can no longer work, she said, and might go two years without a paycheck before disability comes in. Each one has a different story.

"The thing of it is, it can happen to anyone," Mrs. Oliver said.

Before Mercy opened its day shelter, the homeless people had to leave the night shelters at about 5:30 a.m., be on the streets or in abandoned houses during the day, and make their way to soup kitchens or take handouts until the night shelters opened again.

Mercy Ministries, with the help of donors, started about three years ago. Its first priority is the day center. From morning to night, the center shuttles homeless men and women from the Salvation Army to the soup kitchens, to the center and back again to the Salvation Army.

It offers Bible study, snacks, meals and a place where the homeless can wash their clothes. It also helps them find jobs. The ministry operates children's programs at Allen Homes Community Center and assists with community outreach, such as building wheelchair ramps.

"Miss Fran is awesome. They have Bible study. She comes through and checks on us," Mr. Brooks said. He looks forward to having a larger facility.

"Everybody wouldn't be scrunched up (then)," he said. "They definitely need more space."

Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.