Shelter re-opens its doors to homeless

Jenny Simpson (left) and Kerry Wilson stand in front of the Huntington House, located at 576 William St. in Huntington. They are the new managers of the shelter, which has re-opened after being closed for several months.
Jenny Simpson (left) and Kerry Wilson stand in front of the Huntington House, located at 576 William St. in Huntington. They are the new managers of the shelter, which has re-opened after being closed for several months. Photo by Jessica Williams.

A program that can help Huntington citizens get back on their feet under a safe roof is back and running as of this month.

Jenny Simpson and Kerry Wilson are the new directors of the Huntington House, located at 576 William St.
Simpson is a 2008 graduate of Huntington University graduate, where she studied social work and psychology, and lives in Bluffton. She previously provided home-based services for people in poverty.

Wilson is from Huntington and spent several years in upstate New York after high school, attending Word of Life Bible Institute, a two-year college that focuses on the Bible and ministry related studies. She also spent time volunteering and interning with Word of Life. She is the resident director of Huntington House; she has moved into the house because someone is required to be on site.

Mary Jane Perisho, a former board member of Community and Family Services (which operates the Huntington House), resigned from that board to become the Huntington House supervisor. The board wanted to hire a manager from the area.

Perisho says both Simpson and Wilson were in the selection program and the board looked at several applications. Both were interviewed, but the board was planning on hir-ing just one person.

"I wished we could have two; I got my wish," Perisho says.

The board decided there was enough work for two people to be hired. Perisho also says the two work well together. Wilson and Simpson started working at Huntington House on June 29, while Perisho started June 22.

"I'm new with these ladies, and as far as retooling and starting something new, we're all here starting together," Perisho says.

The house was closed for several months so the crew could regroup. They fixed it up themselves, painting, landscaping and decorating from top to bottom.

"It's a marvelous old house; it just needed some TLC," Perisho adds.

Wilson also credits the volunteers and the donations they have received from the com-munity to get the facility in operation again.

"Huntington House hopes to be a place that motivates the community to participate in serving activities, especially in our economic time of need," Simpson says.

The Huntington House opened in 1990 and has seen four managers; most notable is Mary Hamilton, who ran the house for about 15 years. She died a few years ago. However, she was not the first manager; Julie Spencer was the original director in 1990 for the first six months of the program.

Tim Guy, the executive board vice president of the state, says once the discussion began about the need for a homeless shelter, a task force was created; the creation of Huntington County Habitat for Humanity also resulted from that committee's work.

In the first three years alone, more than 200 people were served.

Current numbers are unknown due to some previous bookkeeping errors.

For an individual or family to find help through the program, they need to contact the house and fill out an application. Applications will be reviewed and the applicants interviewed.

Men are not provided services unless they are a part of a family unit and are "aggressively" looking for work, according to shelter guidelines. Also, people with alcohol or substance abuse problems are not allowed to be in the program because the facility is not equipped to help these types of clients.

Once in the house, clients are to be reminded they are not just along for the ride.

"It's a program, it's not just a place to live," says Simpson. She goes on to say residents are expected to help around the house by doing chores. There will be schedules to follow as well.

Residents will get the services they need to get them on the right path, the women say.

They are pooling their resources and their knowledge to provide whatever the clients need, Perisho says.

Residents will be put in contact with people who can teach them money management, courses to earn their GEDs and who can help them find jobs. Simpson says they can also offer parenting skills, self esteem classes and stress management. And if what residents need cannot be offered through other resources resources, Simpson says she wants the Huntington House to be able step in.

"What the community doesn't offer we would like to fill in those gaps," she says.

One of the main goals for this new management team is to get people to realize they should not be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help.

"This isn't a house on the corner, this isn't a hidden, shameful (place). This is for people to come and get help," Wilson says.

"The purpose of the Huntington House is to provide an opportunity for persons to get their basic needs met while instilling hope and guidance for their future," Simpson says.

"We have a vision to guide (clients) in a new direction in their lives, which will lead them to hope, and encourage long term success in their individual life goals," Wilson adds.

Perisho says a stay in Huntington House shouldn't be seen as a last resort; instead, it's the first step in the right direction for each client who comes through the program.

Another goal is to make the clients self-sufficient.
Simpson says clients make goals upon entering the house and will periodically review them. Then, once the 60-day program is complete - clients are allowed to stay in Huntington House for only two months - they figure out which direction to go next, Perisho says. The goal for clients is to go back in the community after program comple-tion and be more productive, she adds.

The clients are asked to rate the program so it can better serve the next people who go through the house.

The Huntington House can hold 12 to 13 people at full capacity. There are 10 beds in the three rooms, and if needed, the dining room can be converted into living space as well.

Simpson also describes some benefits for the people in the program - their basic meets are met, they will be treated with respect, they will be asked to look at both their strengths and weaknesses how to advance them, they can learn what their community has to offer and how they can use it, and they will be pushed to be their best.

The new management is also trying to get the community more involved. They are open to volunteers and donations.
Wilson says people who are laid off themselves come and help out, too, because they see the need in their community.

"The community coming along side us can make a difference even in on person's life for the rest of their years," she adds.

Love INC will be holding an open house in honor of Huntington House's re-opening. It will be Monday, Aug. 17, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at The Gathering Place, 530 Guilford St. in Huntington. The public is welcome.

Perisho has high hopes for the new management team and the renovated program.

"On a scale of one to 10, we are going to be an 11," she laughs.