Originally created 09/09/06

Home of their own



Since Mercy Ministries opened five years ago on Laney-Walker Boulevard, Fran Oliver knew more space was needed for its day shelter for the homeless.

A typical day saw 25 to 30 men, who often were sick or elderly, come off the streets to the 900-square-foot shelter for rest or a meal. The ministry recorded about 10,000 visits last year.

With the help of a benefactor, the ministry is moving into a space nearly three times larger than its current site. Volunteers transformed the former Beauford Glass building at 1739 Fenwick St., at Crawford Avenue in Harrisburg, into a day room with a kitchen and pantry, laundry, counseling rooms, medical examining room, offices and a thrift store.

"The three- and four-storied buildings we looked at were too ambitious for us. God was saving this one for us," Mrs. Oliver said.

The site is closer to the Kroc Center, a proposed multiservice center, and nearer the night shelters and the population the ministry serves. Donations of clothing, food and household items were already piled in the thrift store area in August while workers were framing the day center and other spaces.

The thrift store will accept anything, even children's items. Proceeds go to the ministry.

"The idea is that the community, which is low-income in this area, could have some place to go buy something," Mrs. Oliver said.

In Harrisburg, they are finding people who need help making ends meet. With incomes of $500-$600 a month, they have a home, but not enough for transportation or utilities. Some run out of food before month's end.

It is a misconception that most of the chronic homeless are transients or that they do not work, Mrs. Oliver said.

"They (the homeless) work. They just don't make enough or they are not skilled enough to get a regular job," she said.

Sometimes it is only a birth certificate or a Social Security card that is between them and their getting a job, so the ministry helps them comply. Employers have started calling Mercy for workers.

"I always say we've got three kinds. We've got those that just need a little hand up and can move on; and then you've got those that are going to take longer; and you've got some, unfortunately, for whom it is never going to be any different," Mrs. Oliver said.

See the ministry's Web site, mercyministries.augustaneeds.com.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.