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Men's homeless shelter at full capacity

How does a person go from owning his own business one day to living in a homeless shelter the next?
According to one resident at the men’s homeless shelter in McMinnville, the answer is fairly easily.
“You hear the economy is getting stronger and jobs are becoming available, but we are not seeing it in this area yet. There are a couple of companies that are hiring, but the economy is still bottomed out,” said Ron Johnson, manager of Lighthouse Full Circle Men’s Shelter located near the fairgrounds at the old animal shelter on Collie Lane.
Mark Bishop had been a chef in Maine for 30 years when his mother died and his brother in Tennessee convinced him to pool their inheritance to purchase a house together.
“My mother had cancer and I took care of her for five years,” said Bishop. “After she died, I gave my brother my money. After he closed on the house, he threw me out.
“I slept in my car for 22 days. I had juice to drink. If I ate anything, I had to waste gas driving to a gas station or to Walmart to use the bathroom. I had $400 saved and would take showers at a truck stop but it cost $7 every time I took a shower. It also cost about $5 to do my laundry.”
Bishop is trying to get disability due to health problems, including diabetes. He also takes nitroglycerin for his heart, is on blood thinner and has an inhaler.
“It is almost impossible to get a job cooking if the employer knows about your health problems because of the insurance,” said Bishop.
Another homeless shelter resident, who does not want to be identified, said he had owned a bricklaying business in Missouri for 15 years. He ended up in McMinnville thinking he would be moving in with friends. But, the situation in the house he would have been moving into was not a good one, which led him to the shelter.
“When the economy bottomed out, there was no construction happening,” he said. “No construction meant no brick to lay. I went from making $20 to $50 an hour to poverty level. I have never been in a shelter before. It is a good place for people wanting to get on their own two feet.”
Johnson has seen several homeless shelter residents come and go during his time as manager.
“It seems like there are hardly ever two stories the same,” Johnson said. “We have 13 men here now and they will have 13 different stories. Almost all have lost their jobs, then lost their families, then they have no where to stay. Some are coming out of jail and do not want to get in the same situation and run with people who got them in jail.
“One husband and wife split up. The wife got the home. The man had no home and no job. They need to get in a position where they can self-sustain themselves. Some have court costs and major debts. We help them get to where they can pay off their debts. They must pay off debts,” Johnson said.
Another shelter resident said he made some bad decisions, both personal and financial, which led him to become homeless. “It has been a great help to be here. Without it, I would be sleeping in my car. Ron runs a tight ship. This place is structured and you must get a job,” he said.
Johnson said, “I’ve always felt it’s not a bad thing to be homeless. Circumstances happen. So many people today have jobs, but if they lose that job, they are only one or two paychecks away from being homeless.”
Lighthouse Full Circle Men’s Shelter currently has 13 residents, which makes for a cramped facility.
“We are overbooked,” said shelter president Nathan Smith. “If someone is in dire straits, we will take them to Nashville, Murfreesboro, Crossville or Cookeville. The name means taking the men full circle back to God. Everyone is a gift from God. We want to help people get closer to God. People are made of spirit, mind and body. We want to heal all three aspects if something has gone wrong with one or more of these. We want to help them heal.”
Johnson said the men at the shelter have rules to follow and must help with chores. “They must actively seek work, follow house rules, attend church meetings and Bible studies. We have about six different churches in the area we attend. This is to let the men see the variety of beliefs in the area and let them decide which is best for them,” said Johnson.
The men must also open a bank account and show proof of saving money. Each is assigned a chore and share responsibilities for running the home.
“Last year we were running about a 74 percent success rate with guys who had left,” said Johnson. “They were still doing good, still holding their jobs. I’m proud of that.”
Johnson added, “One guy was only going to stay for a weekend, then a week, then a month. He has been here a year and has paid off all of his court costs and bought a car. He has saved enough to get a place to rent. He will probably move out this month. Hopefully, these men will help someone else.”
Johnson himself is a success story who found help at Lighthouse Full Circle. He had been living in Murfreesboro and working two full-time jobs. He had been at one job for eight years when he was laid off. He was also laid off from the other job which he had been working at for a couple of years.
“I was drawing unemployment for a while and looking for work but I didn’t find work. The unemployment ran out and I was not able to support myself. I got evicted. This was December 2011. Walmart had laid me off and said they had position in McMinnville, so I moved here. But by the time I was able to get here, Walmart had already filled the position. I could find work here, but not permanent work. I feel God led me here to help these guys,” said Johnson.
Lighthouse Full Circle is not a government agency. Nathan Smith was the driving force behind opening the shelter in late 2010.
Johnson said, “I hate begging for money. But, I can’t get Warren County or McMinnville to step up and do anything to help with the shelter. Almost every county around us has a shelter. I’ve heard commissioners and aldermen want to send the homeless to the next county. It is a problem here. Last week, there was a man with a 9-year-old daughter who had become homeless. We couldn’t keep them here. They had no where to go. We ended up taking them to Murfreesboro.”
Johnson continued, “We need to provide help to those who will help themselves. Good will come from this. Helping them is a lot better than the alternative. It is amazing how we are not state funded, but God supplies our needs. The shelter relies on donations from some churches and individuals who have learned of the shelter.”
The Lighthouse Full Circle Men’s’ Shelter is in need of cleaning supplies, paper goods such as toilet paper and paper towels.
For more information, call 931-507-FULL (3855).

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