Thursday, July 30, 9:59 AM EDT
By Carole Hawkins, Staff Writer
Howard White figured it wouldn’t take much in repairs to make the early 20th century house livable. A remodeled bathroom and kitchen, a new HVAC system, updates to the electric and plumbing.
The payout could be huge, though.
When it’s finished, it’ll be a transition home for people who’ve beaten addiction and the problems behind it.
White has “adopted” the house, one of 13 that have fallen into disrepair and now need attention.
They’re owned by City Rescue Mission, a faith-based group that shelters and counsels homeless people with addiction issues.
“Some people are just down and out and need others to give them a helping hand,” said White, founder of North Florida Builders.
One person who might need that help is Carol (last names are not shared). After 15 months at City Rescue Mission, she’s begun to look for a job.
With a felony on her record and a history of violence, she’s already finding it tough.
“I’m not violent anymore. I’m not even the same person,” she said.
Until there’s steady work, a house with low rent could become the life raft she’ll need to get by.
Jacksonville has five homeless shelters. The one at City Rescue Mission provides emergency services, a drug recovery program, workforce development and a Christian curriculum.
As a faith-based program, City Rescue Mission doesn’t qualify for government funding and relies entirely on donations.
Even more challenging, people who’ve been in the drug recovery program often can’t qualify for low-income housing once they leave. That’s because after being at City Rescue Mission for a year, they’re no longer considered homeless.
“They need a place to live. They can’t just go back to drug haven,” executive director Penny Kievet said.
City Rescue Mission’s McDuff Avenue campus was formerly Trinity Baptist College, and the 13 homes there had once been student housing.
When City Rescue Mission bought the property in 1998, they were still livable, but never in great shape, Kievet said. They’ve never kept up with repairs.
One donor offered $200,000 to fix all of the houses, but that deal fell through.
Another offered $15,000 if the group could find a matching donor. Two more signed on.
Cynthia Montello, a public relations professional and 12-year advocate of City Rescue Mission, decided in April to launch a “Homes of Hope” marketing campaign to raise donations for the rest. She’s also asked for help from clients, many of them homebuilders.
White was the first builder to sign on. Repairs for each of the 13 homes are estimated at $15,000. White will ask his subcontractors to pitch in. What they can’t do, he’ll pay for.
Right now City Rescue Mission has commitments to fix seven of the 13 homes. Montello knows getting the remaining six is a big ask after a recession that has set everyone back.
“With things like this I never rely on my own strength. I rely on God,” she said. “God will give us six more like Howard White.”
Montello isn’t the only one who’s been relying on God.
City Rescue Mission is a place where funds are short, but faith is abundant. Where troubled lives are changed by a moment of grace.
Carol’s mother had left her alone to care for her three siblings — a newborn, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old — when she was still just a child. They had to steal food to eat. As an adult, Carol sought refuge in abusive relationships and crack cocaine.
At City Rescue Mission, she tackled the addiction and came to understand why she had made so many bad choices.
“I never felt loved,” she said. “I used to be angry at God. Now I feel I went through those hard times because God was showing me that I could be strong.”
J.B., like Carol, has a felony conviction.
He gave up on life after finding out he had cancer. At City Rescue Mission, people cared and saw the good in him. He learned that there’s hope. That you never give up.
“I’ve been to the other shelters in Jacksonville. They have God here,” he said.
William drank heavily and was driven to near insanity after his mother and several other close family members died in quick succession. His mother had been the glue that held the family together. He tried to commit suicide.
At City Rescue Mission, he found God. “Now instead of talking to myself, I’m talking to my friends. I’m talking to Jesus,” he said. “I’ll never be alone again.”
Charlie Clark, founder of the Northeast Florida Builders Association’s Sales and Marketing Council, added his voice to Montello’s in the call to help repair the homes. As busy as builders are, he knows some will come to the plate.
“We have some of the most benevolent builders in Jacksonville that I’ve ever met anywhere in the world,” he said. “When you show them a need, they find a way to get it done.”