Shepherd’s House: A respite for veterans
Written By: KPC News Service
Date: August 16, 2016
FORT WAYNE — Gov. Mike Pence, state Rep. Dennis Zent and judges Frances Gull, Tom Felts and John Surbeck recently visited Shepherd’s House, a transitional living center for homeless veterans struggling with addictions. The visitors were there presumably to tour the facility at 519 Tennessee Ave. The real reason, it turned out, was to present the Sagamore of the Wabash award to founders Lonnie and Barb Cox.
Taken completely by surprise, Barb Cox said “we were in shock.” She added, “We were very pleased that the work we’ve been doing here in helping homeless veterans reclaim their lives and become productive citizens for the past 18 years is appreciated in the community. And, it makes us even more determined to serve those who fought for our freedom.”
Over the years, Shepherd’s House has helped more than 2,000 honorably discharged veterans by giving them a faith-based home with a beautiful serenity garden for relaxing and playing corn-hole. With that comes free room and board, daily therapies, nightly recovery meetings, case management, classes tailored to their individual needs, educational and budgeting classes and medical care. In addition, they receive help in getting jobs.
Shepherd’s House, which is a long-term residential/transitional housing center, provides a strong support environment that encourages healthy self-image, which is basic to recovery from addiction. The structured approach is designed to help participants develop a solid foundation of sobriety and holds them accountable to the rehabilitation community for their behavior as well as for completion of daily work assignments. Participants make a six-month personal commitment to the recovery program and can stay up to two years.
The facility has 41 beds at the Tennessee Avenue house and another six in a house just two doors away on Spy Run Avenue, where graduates of the program can stay while getting established in the community. They are still welcome to avail themselves of the services at the main house, including meals. A couple residents are presently enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College, and at one time 23 were attending classes at local colleges.
A dedicated staff of experienced and highly motivated people, some of whom are veterans themselves, work with the residents. Their goal is to get them to the point of being able to handle the problem that made them homeless in the first place, become addiction-free, help them hold a job and down the road own housing with the assistance of HUD and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.
The Coxes spend 18 months preparing the old St. Andrews Convent on Schele Avenue in the Harvester neighborhood to accommodate homeless people. When that lease ran out, the Coxes stumbled across the Landmark Building on Tennessee Avenue. In the 1850s it was owned by the grandparents of actress Carol Lombard and her parents were married in the office. It was known then as the Knight Mansion. It later became the Fort Wayne Sanitarium, and was an office building before becoming Shepherd’s House.
Developing Shepherd’s House to be the efficient program that it is today was a long, frustrating struggle. It was not set up to house people and required a great deal of work to get it up to code. “Even though we were the only place in the area taking in veterans,” Barb said, “we were turned down twice by the Veterans Administration. I began sending emails to the local VA office and worked my way up the chain until I finally got someone to give us a second look.
“We put in a sprinkling system, made adjustments to individual rooms and added a restaurant-style kitchen in order to meet their standards. It took 4 years to get recognized and established with the VA,” she added. “We did everything ourselves because we didn’t have the money to hire it done.”
Thanks to that hard work, residents now are eligible for dental work, psychiatric help, medications, disabilities assistance and a pension. Shepherd’s House provides a shuttle to take them to and from the VA Hospital.
“The Lord has continued to make the ‘impossible’ happen on a daily basis,” Barb said. “We got a grant for the sprinkler system, a furniture dealer donated new furniture, the owner of Rustic Hutch whose son served in Iraq gave us leather couches and Sweetwater Sound donated guitars and amplifiers. Lonnie, who plays keyboard and guitar in a local band, gives music lessons to interested residents. We were able to give 11 cars to program graduates through the kindness of area dealers. We’re particularly thankful to 10 local churches that are big supporters of the program. Some have even hired residents.
“One of the most gratifying parts of our job,” Lonnie said, “is when the veterans who have stayed with us drop in from time to time to say hello and fill us in on how they’re doing. Some keep in touch through Facebook and a few come back to lead classes.”
Shepherd’s house is open to all veterans who meet the criteria. Persons who know of a homeless veteran or one who needs assistance are urged to call 424-2500 any time of the day or night. More information can be found at shepherdshouse.org.
Posted with permission from KPC News