Homeless shelter officials share info with first responders


At any given time, more than 300 people in Jackson County are actively homeless.

That startling statistic recently was shared by John Cord, an executive board member for Waymaker Ministries Inc., while meeting with local first responders.

Those people may not have anyplace to go or may spend a few nights in a hotel room or sleep in their car or a tent, he said.

Through his involvement with one of the ministry’s branches, Double Down Outreach, jail ministry and the Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter, Cord has learned how serious the homelessness issue is in the county.

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A lot of it stems from generational poverty and mental illnesses, Cord said. Some lost their jobs. Some had issues with a significant other and wound up on the street with no place to go. Some become transients or get involved in human trafficking and travel up and down the interstates. For a few, it’s related to drug use.

“We know it’s real and it’s active, and it’s heartbreaking to see that,” he said.

Later this year, the Jackson County Toolbox Resource Center will open its doors and provide these people an opportunity to turn their lives around.

Jackson County Toolbox is Waymaker Ministries’ branch dedicated to resources, education and benevolence. It will reach Jackson County residents in need of help through a resource center on Dupont Drive in Seymour, where they receive support and assistance with many different areas regardless of income or housing status.

The center will provide access to navigators, who are staff trained in helping guests with referrals and assistance with other Jackson County agencies, and year-round emergency beds for those experiencing crisis.

“We want to partner with all of the existing agencies to help however we can,” said Karen Browning, executive director and founder of Waymaker Ministries.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We’re not taking away from what’s already happening here in Jackson County,” she said. “Rather, we’re looking at how we can partner for more stability and how we can work with other teams and agencies to make things happen.”

Getting it started

After the first year of Cold Night Out ended in March 2019, Cord said nearly a dozen churches came together to come up with something more sustaining.

The first step was to consult with agencies that are considered the best in the country in turning the tide on homelessness and getting people off the streets, Cord said.

They reached out to Good Samaritan Ministries in Holland, Michigan, Horizon House in Indianapolis, Homeland Industries in Los Angeles, California, and Pioneer Industries in Seattle, Washington.

“There are many around that have really good practices,” Cord said. “We asked them, ‘What do we need to do?’ The answer came back, ‘You have to get them out of crisis mode first.’ That means you have to house them.”

They were told to find a place where people can live in smaller housing units with individual bathrooms that’s clean and safe.

Late last summer, the Seymour Board of Zoning Appeals overturned a previous decision made by the city plan commission to grant a land use variance for local developer Andy Royalty to build an emergency homeless shelter in a commercial area at 326 Dupont Drive on the city’s east side.

Royalty owns the property and the vacant building on it and currently has a crew working on turning it into apartment-style rooms to house a maximum of 48 people.

How it will operate

During the recent meeting with first responders, Cord shared a schematic of the first phase of the building.

Near the entryway will be offices for the executive director, counseling and consultations. The vetting process will include an interview, a background check and being entered into the Charity Tracker system. Cord said their bags will be checked for paraphernalia, and they will submit to a patdown if staff deem necessary.

People will be turned away if they are inebriated, have an active warrant or are a sexual offender, Cord said.

From 5:30 to 7 p.m. each day, people will get checked in and stabilized and then escorted to their rooms.

There will be separate living areas for single men, single women and families with children. There will be two separate dormitories for both men and women, including a high-security one for men and a smaller women’s area that can be flipped into a large family unit if needed. Each of the three family apartments can house up to six people.

“We’ll have control of those locks. After 7 p.m., the doors are locked. Once they are in their rooms, they are not going to be out moving around,” Cord said. “They will be taking nothing into the rooms other than the clothes on their back and the absolute necessities. We will take prescription drugs and dole them out to them, but everything else will be put into locked lockers.”

All restrooms will have one toilet, one sink and one shower for hygiene and safety purposes, Cord said. There also will be a commercial kitchen and a utility room, where paid staff and volunteers will prepare meals and do laundry.

Services offered

Guests will have expectations to meet. They will undergo a mental health assessment and have priorities set.

“Once they are stabilized, which takes about a week or so, then we begin the process of trying to move them toward finding a full-time job and then eventually finding full-time, permanent housing,” Cord said.

The building is near the Jackson County Learning Center, which houses the WorkOne office and educational and workforce training programs, and Christopher and Associates Evaluation and Counseling Center Inc., so those resources will be available for guests.

Within 30 to 45 days, Cord said the goal is to get the guests into permanent housing. That, however, could be a challenge since housing is an issue in Seymour, he said.

“Cities that have done well with this have created partnerships with people that own housing units, low-income housing units and homes and those types of things, and some have actually purchased their own housing,” he said. “Most of the cities have on their staff some sort of a housing manager that works with the owners of these homes and apartment complexes.”

Staffing the shelter

Cord, who is serving as interim director until an executive director is hired, said they will hire about a dozen full-time staff members, and a minimum of two people will work in the facility 24/7.

Cord said Good Samaritan Ministries has invited staff there to go through a training program and also offered to come to Seymour once the facility is open to help get it off the ground and serve as mentors.

Navigators will work with other agencies to advocate for the guests and help them with whatever they need to become stable.

The facility also will rely on volunteers for meal preparation and serving and laundry.

“We take what we do very seriously. We train our volunteers to a high degree,” Browning said. “Confidentiality is king in what we do. I’m very serious with our volunteers that we rise to the level of social services.”

The center also will have a safety team consisting of local fire and police personnel that can do training and evaluate incident response. Browning said staff will be required to train on Narcan, first aid, closed-quarters self-defense, automated external defibrillators and fire suppression.

“We are looking at making sure that we are utilizing not only best practices with regards to a shelter but best practices with law enforcement, best practices with fire, best practices with EMS,” Browning said.

“We want to make sure that we’re incorporating everything that you guys bring to the table, as well, so that we are making sure that we’re serving our community to the utmost, and that is serving you, as well,” she said. “You guys need to be able to do your job when you come on scene with us.”

Cord said also said Sheriff Rick Meyer and Seymour Police Chief Bryant Lucas have offered to have officers there during intake.

As another safety measure, Cord said there will be 47 cameras inside and outside the building. Using the Honeywell system, staff will be able to use an iPad to move the cameras, pan them around and turn them on and off, lock and unlock doors and turn lights on and off. There also will be a camera on each exit door with an alarm, and if the door is opened, a person will not be allowed back in.

Funding the shelter

The project is being privately funded and will be operated by Jackson County Toolbox.

Cord said it will cost about $750,000 per year to operate the facility. That includes paying the full-time staff, bills and insurance and buying food.

The organization has hired a consulting firm through the Center for Congregations to guide it through a feasibility study.

“We’ve put all of the financials together and know what the building is going to cost,” Cord said. “We will have to raise a lot of money, so we are going to launch into a large fundraising campaign that you’ll see us go public with here in the coming weeks.”

The executive board will reach out to community leaders and residents to get the facility off the ground and keep it sustained for the next three or four years, Cord said.

A second phase of the project will nearly double the shelter’s capacity, and the third phase will add a manufacturing facility to provide workforce training.

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Waymaker Ministries Inc. is a Christ-centered nonprofit organization that serves the marginalized of Jackson County through a continuum of care for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of each individual. The targets are generational poverty and generational addiction in Jackson County.

Its four branches are Double Down Outreach, Jackson County Toolbox, Broken and Beautiful and Traveling Damascus Road.

For information, call 844-929-6257, email [email protected] or visit facebook.com/waymakerministriesinc.

Donations may be mailed to Waymaker Ministries Inc., P.O. Box 189, Seymour, IN 47274. Checks should be made payable to Waymaker Ministries Inc.

The organization also has a booth at Freedom Flea Market, 326 Myers St., Seymour. All proceeds from Booth 7 benefit the organization.


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