By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—A home, where before there was none. A way out and a step up, when before there was only the endless, debilitating cycle of poverty.
And all thanks to a new conference-wide mission project called simply the Homeless Initiative.
The Homeless Initiative is a partnership between the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and Homes of Hope, an Upstate nonprofit that will provide affordable, low-cost houses for homeless families in need.
Between now and Annual Conference (June 4-7 in Greenville), every United Methodist church in South Carolina is being asked to contribute $100 toward the Homeless Initiative. For every $39,000 raised, Homes of Hope will build a home.
“It really is breaking the poverty cycle in that it lifts them up out of poverty to home ownership,” said Greenville District Superintendent Dr. George Howle, urging churches to step up and be a part of the project.
Howle sees the need firsthand. Statistics indicate roughly one in eight families are living in poverty in Greenville County, and what breaks Howle’s heart are the children in those families—children who didn’t ask for this situation and are doing their best to stay afloat.
“It is truly a way to help,” Howle said.
So far, Howle said, the other conference mission initiative, a youth bike collection, has taken off in a big way, but he said the goal of $100 per church hasn’t done as well.
The more churches that participate with their contribution means more houses the conference can help build for homeless families, Howle said.
Energy-efficient and affordable
The conference sponsors 25 percent of the cost of the home, and Homes of Hope does the rest.
Don Oglesby, president and chief executive officer of Homes of Hope, said the homes the conference is funding are the smallest their group builds, designed for a small family. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is 855 square feet, and every room except the bathroom has a vaulted ceiling, giving a feeling that the home is much bigger.
“It blows you away. It feels like you’ve got all this room,” Oglesby said.
The home is part of Homes of Hope’s LoCAL Housing project, which stands for Long-term, Compact, Affordable and built to LEED standards, an environmentally responsible, energy efficient construction and design process. (The homes are not LEED-certified, which costs an additional $3,000, in an effort to keep costs low.)
Only poverty-level families making $1,000-$1,300 qualify for a LoCAL home, and Homes of Hope does what it can to craft a quality, permanent, cost-friendly home for these families that they hope will be a permanent solution.
Oglesby said families start by renting the home for a period of time. Rent is $325/month, and thanks to the energy-efficiency aspect, utilities and rent combined stay at just about $400/month—about 30 percent of their income, which Oglesby said is an affordable standard.
Next, the families go through financial wellness training, and then if they wish to own the home, Homes of Hope will help them get a mortgage.
“It’s a great opportunity to minister to a poverty-level family,” Oglesby said.
Sober with skills
What is especially exciting about the LoCAL housing is that it helps both the families who will live there and the men who construct the homes, Howle and Oglesby said.
The builders are part of Homes of Hope’s Men’s Development Program, a program that nurtures and equips men who have graduated from a Christ-centered shelter program of addiction recovery. The men know Christ and have been clean and sober for six to nine months, but they often don’t have marketable job skills when they come out of the shelter to get strong employment. After a year in Homes of Hope’s Men’s Development Program, the men have built four homes, have 290 hours of on-the-job training and a certificate from Greenville Technical College for basic residential construction.
“It is a beautiful job training opportunity,” Oglesby said, noting the houses solve three problems at once: helping low-income families find affordable housing that is also energy efficient and helping men in recovery get a needed step in the right direction.
“When the churches sponsor these houses, they can come out and volunteer and work right alongside these men,” Oglesby said. “We have had testimony after testimony of people who love working aside these eight to ten guys who love Christ.”
Give now through June
Howle said the $100 per church will be collected right up until Annual Conference. Churches can donate online to the Homeless Initiative at www.umcsc.org or mail a check to the South Carolina Conference Treasurer, Attn: Homeless Initiative, 4908 Colonial Dr., Columbia, SC 29203.
Howle said four churches in the Greenville District have already agreed to sponsor one home apiece: Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville; Covenant UMC, Greer; Advent UMC, Simpsonville; and Mauldin UMC, Mauldin.
If churches step up conference-wide, Howle hopes the UMC will be able to build at least two or three more homes for homeless families, maybe even more.
Oglesby said the UMC involvement is an answered prayer, and he is excited about the opportunity.
“We had trouble about two years ago getting a pipeline of sponsors, and we set a goal to pray together and ask the Lord to provide a pipeline, and when you ask the Lord stuff like that, He does it,” Oglesby said. “It gives Him a chance to show He is God and He does answer prayer and when we can’t do things, He can—and now we have a partnership with The United Methodist Church.”