Shepherd’s House offers a fresh start for veterans

Written by: Elbert Starks III of The News-Sentinel
Up for the day by 7 a.m.

Lights out by 11 p.m.

In between, everybody cleans the living spaces – showers, toilets, floors, walls. Everybody has specific duties, including rotation in the kitchen.

Seniority and adherence to rules means residents are eligible for privileges, not automatically granted them. Failure to comply with those rules means the likely loss of privileges and stripping of seniority.

That’s how the military works, and the rules at Shepherd’s House, 519 Tennessee Ave., give homeless veterans a sense of the discipline they once lived with.

Not all the residents are veterans of the armed services. The facility, a long-term, transitional housing center for alcohol- and chemically addicted men, can assist up to 41 residents at a time. There are 36 clients now, and about 85 percent were members of the armed forces, said Lonnie Cox, the founder and executive director.

Veterans Day is an opportunity to honor those who have served in the armed forces, to thank them for their service to the country.

But sometimes, as is the case for some residents at Shepherd’s House, circumstances or harmful choices have caused such difficulty to former members of the military that they lose their sense of self and, as Cox termed it, their dignity.

That’s why Cox and the facility’s director, Jim Zuber, have Shepherd’s House structured the way they do. Cox and Zuber are former Marines. The house manager, Victor Brown, served in the Army.

With the rules of Shepherd’s House, men who might have shown up with nothing, not even a change of clothes, can begin to rebuild their lives – with the kind of structure that, at some point, was familiar to them.

“Shepherd’s House will give you the opportunity to reassess your life,” Brown said. “For instance, you have to get up by 7 a.m. Every day. You have to prepare yourself to work. To prepare yourself to do a job. Or do a job search.

“You have to be here at a certain time, or there at a certain time. That’s important for some people who are trying to get off the streets and do better things with their life.”

Shepherd’s House residents are required to commit to at least six months of care to be admitted and are required to attend meetings and visits with counselors.

They are encouraged, but not required, to examine whether faith can be a part of their recoveries and lives, and Bible study is a part of the curriculum at the facility. Shepherd’s House is a nonprofit, certified 501(c)3. Cox and his wife, Barb, opened it in another location in 1998.

The veterans who are at Shepherd’s House have a foundation of discipline with which to work, Cox points out. That can still be nurtured, if the men come to the facility and put in the effort.

“These men have been trained to make it on their own, or as part of a team,” Cox said. “But where they are before they come here … they’ve been surviving on the street.

“A lot of them have baggage. Maybe they don’t have any family around, or their family doesn’t want them to be around. Maybe they’ve had brushes with law enforcement, and they’ve got to deal with the legal system.”

“But these were once proud men,” Cox said. “Once they get here, we demand respect from them, so they can accept respect from us. Then, they begin to respect themselves, respect their bodies, again.”

Ted Wright came to Shepherd’s House with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing, Cox said, after making his way from Florida to Fort Wayne. He was admitted into Shepherd’s House a little more than a year ago and began the process of gaining seniority:

First, a resident lives in an eight-man berthing area with bunk beds. If he follows the rules, he gets to move into a four-person area. Then a two-person unit.

Now Wright lives in a one-bedroom suite. He has saved money he has earned by working at a part-time job, Cox said. He has clothes, books and magazines, a television, and even a set of golf clubs – which he used to great effect during a tournament the men had.

“A lot of these guys, they all have stories about times past, and you don’t know whether to believe them or not,” said Cox. “Ted always said he could play, but who really knows. But Ted … hey. He can play that game. He’s good.”

Original Article

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