house work

Ron Slade, project manager for the FaithWorks’ Open Door Program, right, works with Brian Creighton on the railing on a house on Lincoln Street the program is currently restoring.

The FaithWorks’ Open Doors program is restoring much more than houses. It is also restoring the lives of homeless people here in the Golden Isles, one renovated house at a time.

The program does this in two ways — by hiring homeless individuals to restore properties and by allowing homeless people to rent them when complete.

The Open Doors crew’s first project was renovating a property on Reynolds Street in Brunswick. It is now working on its second property on Lincoln Street. The project began July 12 with a 12-week completion schedule to get the house ready for sale or rent. The new property is approximately 1,450 square feet. It will be two different units with two different entrances.

“Our goal is to get two families, or two separate entities, in either unit,” said Ron Slade, who leads the Open Doors program.

For this project, the crew will be doing basic demolition and debris removal, refinishing the hardwood floors, painting the house and plastering damaged walls. Open Doors works entirely on community donations and grants. The St. Marys United Methodist Church Foundation granted FaithWorks $75,000, and pledged another $50,000 if FaithWorks raised the same amount.

Slade said he was overwhelmed by the community charity in helping them raise the amount, as well as seeing the community interest in their work. At their last open house, more than 60 people came, and Slade said it led to more projects.

Four of the current crew members assisted with the Reynolds Street renovation. A new member, Brian Creighton, a 19-year-old man who is currently homeless, is helping on Lincoln Street.

Like many of the people who make up the Open Doors crew, Creighton comes with a story. He said his current situation started when his mother, who is disabled, went into crisis. After a month in crisis, she would later go to the Salvation Army, while Creighton temporarily lived with an aunt. However, familial issues made the stay last only about two to three months before Creighton felt it was best for him to leave, after which he was homeless and had to stay at the Salvation Army.

Creighton is also an example of how the program hopes to benefit its workers. Slade said the goal is to get Brian and his mother in the second house once it is finished. For Creighton, who said “Life is a like a game of chess,” this is a winning move that will help him provide for his mother and pursue his other goals.

“I’m trying to get my GED, so that way I can go to welding school,” Creighton said.

There are four to five more people at The Well, FaithWorks’ hospitality day center for homeless people, who are looking to get involved in future renovations. With them now working on two houses, about eight to 10 individuals can help, and Open Doors is currently looking for a third house so it can employ as many as 15 people. Slade said the program has already helped home some previously homeless individuals — three of the workers who helped with the Reynolds Street restoration now get to live there.

“They’ve gone from being homeless to having a pretty nice house, and they’re taking really good care of it. If you go over there, it’s pristine, clean. They took pride in their work, now they’re taking pride in their home,” Slade said.

Creighton said Slade was the one who hired him for this latest project and is offering him additional support in finding a job with better pay. Slade said Open Doors pays minimum wage because the goal is to help their workers find better work. Working on the Open Doors crew is often a first step in helping homeless people get back on their feet, and Slade said after assisting with the project, they’ll gain confidence in their skills and feel encouraged to apply to other construction jobs.

Since the program is new, it is also in the process of adding requirements. For this project, Open Doors requires workers to be in some form of spiritual or mental counseling or a substance abuse program. Slade emphasized that everyone’s journey is different, and the group is still figuring out how to best help each individual.

For some people, that support might mean needing a lot of grace and patience. That may take the form of assisting them in being able to take required medications, or offering them rides, Slade said. Some of the people he works with don’t have families and just need support, which he offers, even if it’s something as simple as being available for a phone chat everyday.

Open Doors current goal is to continually have renovation projects available so there is no lag in potential work. Besides helping the homeless population, Slade also sees the program as an asset to the community. Since their last project, Slade has noticed other houses in the area being purchased and renovated.

“While secondary to our mission statement, the improvement to the aesthetic of the community is also important to us, and one of the reasons we wanted the house across the street is that we like to have a visible impact over a block or a series of blocks,” Slade said.

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