‘Doors of Hope’ opens in Oxford
By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – One frustration of many poverty programs is seeing people face the same desperate situations over and over.
Paying a light bill or furnishing a week’s worth of groceries brings welcome relief but often does little to effect financial independence.
“So many programs are giving out assistance without any kind of follow-up, and really nothing to show for it – no improvement in people’s lives,” said the Rev. Jonathan Scanlon, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Oxford and a board member of “Doors of Hope.”
Doors of Hope is a Christian transitional housing ministry in Oxford that aims to change that cycle-of-poverty dynamic. In accepting four months in a furnished apartment with paid utilities, client families also accept help in developing skills, disciplines and perspectives to help them build long-term stability. Clients aren’t required to be Christians, but spiritual principles are emphasized alongside economic ones.
“I think if they could do it on their own, they’d do it, but they can’t, so they need intensive case management,” said board chairwoman Sherry Williams-Jenkins, a social work instructor at the University of Mississippi.
Although homelessness comes in many varieties, Doors of Hope concentrates on families with children.
“We knew in starting that we couldn’t take care of everybody,” Williams-Jenkins said. “We chose families with minor children, because there are so many long-range effects of growing up in poverty.”
Program director Tammy Delcourt, a licensed social worker, screens potential clients to find those most willing to sacrifice for their futures. She and others help clients find work, open a checking account and budget money. Kids are enrolled in school, and adults are helped to address any educational shortcomings of their own.
Clients may not seek help from other local charities during their time with Doors of Hope and must put 30 cents of each dollar earned into an escrow account to help rent their own apartment or house later.
“The end goal is to be able to leave us and go into a permanent living arrangement,” Delcourt said.
Clients must abide by a curfew and strict visitation rules and forgo alcohol and tobacco. They also live without cable TV and Internet.
“We all have to prioritize, and that’s part of what they have to learn,” Williams-Jenkins added. “We need food, clothing, shelter. … That’s part of changing their mindset from ‘right now’ to the long term.”
Doors of Hope arose after a task force studying homelessness in Oxford found the seasonal cycle of many low-skilled jobs throws many families into financial chaos.
“When the students are here, business is booming, Williams-Jenkins said. “When the students leave at the end of the fall semester, you’re laid off for four to six weeks, or you’re laid off from May until August.”
Scanlon said helping people out of poverty is not just a moral imperative, but one of societal self-preservation.
“As budgets are slashed and people have fewer government resources, we’re either going to have utter chaos in our streets, or the churches are going to have to step up,” he said.
Doors of Hope
Donations to Doors of Hope may be made c/o First Presbyterian Church, 924 Van Buren Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. For more information, call (662) 234-1100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doors of Hope
Think about how good it feels when someone holds a door open for you when you are struggling with your arms full of groceries. Imagine how encouraging it would feel if you were struggling to keep your family afloat and avoid a homeless situation and to know that there was hope – someone willing to hold a door open for you while you got back on your feet?
Different from emergency services that offer overnight shelter, Doors of Hope Transition Ministries provides rent-free shelter for 4-6 months while requiring residents to set goals to become self sufficient. This includes following a plan to pay off debts, to work and set up an escrow saving with at least 30% of their income, to track all money earned and spent, to plan and prepare nutritional and economic meals, and to be good housekeepers and good neighbors. A licensed social worker meets with each family at least twice a week to assist in their journey to get back on their feet.
Doors of Hope Transition Ministries, a 501(C)3 non-profit organization, sheltered its first family in 2011, and is quietly making an impact on many lives in the community. DOHTM provided housing and counseling for 77 individual beneficiaries between July 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. This number includes five client families (6 adults and 9 children), 38 individual referrals or consults, and 8 families (11 adults and 13 children) who received counseling after leaving the initial program. Only one family was terminated due to program violations during this period.
With support from United Way, LOFT, local churches, the annual Summer Bounty fundraiser, the monthly donation drive at Larson’s Cash Saver, and generous business and individual donors, DOHTM is making a difference in the lives of many who are struggling to remain self sufficient. This support has also allowed DOHTM to offer group counseling sessions to former clients. These families benefit from sharing with each other some of the challenges they continue to face after leaving the temporary housing.
While Oxford justly receives national attention as an ideal place to live, there are those among us who need a little help, who need a door to be opened if only for a short time: a door of hope that with a little assistance, a family might overcome temporary setbacks and become self sufficient once again. Be watching for more success stories from these efforts. Readers may learn more about Doors of Hope on our website: www.doorsofhopeoxford.org, or send an email request to email@example.com.
Meet Doors of Hope’s New Case Manager Carrie Driskell
Oxford’s Doors of Hope Transitional Ministries is dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk families in Oxford and Lafayette County become self-sufficient. Since its founding in 2011, sixteen families have successfully completed the program and three others are currently enrolled. Thanks to the generous support of our community, DOHTM was able to bring Carrie Driskell on board in March as a full-time case manager. We sat down with Carrie to find out a little more about her.
Brenda West: Carrie, something in your accent tells me you’re not originally from Mississippi. Am I right?
Carrie Driskell: You are! I was born and raised in Cleveland, not Mississippi, but Ohio.
BW: How did you end up in Oxford?
CD: I moved to Mississippi with my aunt and her family to attend college. I first attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where I earned an associate degree, and then I came to The University of Mississippi where I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work.
BW: I understand you now hold a master’s degree in social work.
CD: Yes! I recently graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University with my master’s degree.
BW: What inspired you to apply for DOHTM’s case manager position?
CD: I applied for the case manager position because of the opportunity to work with a new population. DOHTM provides assistance to our community by giving Hope to our Homeless. I wanted to be a part of this momentous agency and contribute to the positive impact it has in Oxford and Lafayette County.
BW: What do you find most fulfilling about being a case manager?
CD: One of the most fulfilling moments is seeing the joy in a person’s eyes when they know they have stable and supportive housing.
BW: What is the hardest thing about being a case manager?
CD: One of the most difficult moments for me is understanding that not all of our clients will achieve self-sufficiency. That is the goal we strive for at DOHTM. It is a challenge sometimes to impress upon clients that we have very strict rules and that I am required to visit them and see that they are abiding by these rules.
BW: What happens when clients just don’t follow the rules?
CD: It’s sad, but they are asked to leave.
BW: Give us an idea of counseling you provide.
CD: I provide supportive counseling and if further services are needed they are referred to our local community mental health agency. I work extensively with the clients to ensure proper budgeting habits are utilized weekly. Nutrition, life skills, and other topics are discussed during our Step 2 program that is held each month.
BW: Describe the best scenario when a client leaves the program.
CD: Well, they have a nest egg to start out with. We hold 30% of their income in an escrow account – yes, they are required to work – and when they leave they will have money for utility deposits, initial rent, groceries, and such.
BW: There must be compelling stories from former clients who were able to remain self-sufficient after leaving the program.
CD: Yes, we are hoping to produce a short film that will tell some of these stories.
BW: How do you get your story out to the community? Do people know about this ministry?
CD: We have a website and a presence on Facebook now. We meet a lot of people at our monthly donation drive at Larson’s Cash Saver. Our board of directors that oversees the program is in an active fundraising campaign now and that helps spread the word. We will have a fundraiser this summer at the Powerhouse. We want to expand our services, so the more we can tell our story, the more people we can help.
BW: I see that your office address is 924 Van Buren. Isn’t that 1st Presbyterian Church?
CD: Yes. They generously provide us with office space. It’s a wonderful place to be!
BW: Before we go, tell us what you do when you are not working.
CD: In my spare time, I enjoy reading, traveling, and watching movies. One of my hobbies is baking. I have a sweet tooth! I also believe in giving back to my adopted community and that is why I am a member of the NAACP and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
BW: Well, we are happy to have you on the team and are glad you chose to stay in Oxford. Do let us know how we can help you continue to help those trying so hard to stay afloat.