Mercy House Marks 30 Years Of Helping Families

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October 23, 2018
Daily News-Record  10/22/18
HARRISONBURG — Two years ago Becky Brooks found herself dealing with circumstances involving her adult children that were beyond her control. Brooks became homeless.
At first, she stayed in hotels, but when her savings ran out she didn’t know what to do.
Thanks to a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Staunton, Brooks found herself at Mercy House with her granddaughter, Kay. She lived there for six months while she saved money to find a place of her own.
Now Brooks is on her own, and working for Mercy House as part of the cleaning staff.
“While we were there they treated us with dignity and respect,” she said. “We didn’t feel like we were homeless.”
Unlike some shelters, Mercy House is focused on helping families with children, and getting residents back on their feet as quickly as possible.
“[Mercy House] is a great organization that pulls out all the stops for the community. They take care of you not just while you’re there, but after you leave, too,” Brooks said.
On Saturday night, Mercy House celebrated 30 years of addressing the issue of homelessness in the Harrisonburg area with a banquet attended by 250 people.
In 1988, a small group of area residents began talking about the plight of the homeless. Roy Early, Judge John Paul and Louise Tate were among the people involved in that initial discussion.
On Aug. 12, 1988, the group incorporated, wrote bylaws and established Mercy House as a nonprofit organization. Two years later, Mercy House was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and bought two buildings at 247 N. High St., which would house the administrative offices and eight apartments.
Early, who attended Saturday’s banquet, said he and the other organizers had no idea what they started would become what it is today.
“We were a group that had a vision that [Mercy House] would be something, but not that it would be this 30 years later,” he said.
The founders knew of the homeless issue in Harrisonburg, and how it often led to the separation of families. They asked, “Is there something we can do?” Early said.
“We decided that the need was for a family shelter,” he said.
The shelter began with a house on Country Club Road that housed two families.
Now, 30 years later, between all the properties owned by Mercy House, as many as 12 to 14 families can be accommodated at a time.
“It’s amazing what all has happened and the growth and the variety of services offered,” Early said.
Since its founding, Mercy House has housed 1,500 families with children, said Malcolm Lane, vice president of the shelter’s board of directors.
“It’s the best-kept secret when it comes to charities,” Lane said.
Many people in Harrisonburg, when they hear Mercy House, think of the thrift shops owned and operated by the organization, he said. They don’t necessarily think of homeless shelters, Lane said.
And while the thrift shops are important — the revenue they bring in allows the shelters to stay open, and they employ residents — Mercy House is much more than the stores, he said.
A 2019 capital campaign will be aimed at raising money to build apartments that can be rented out at an affordable cost. A lack of affordable housing is one factor leading to homelessness in Harrisonburg, Lane said.
“There just aren’t apartments that they can afford,” he said of former Mercy House residents.