David Neal, 42, has been coming to the Gateway to Hope Day Resource Center since January. He talked, sometimes with tears in his eyes, about how he never expected to wind up homeless. Gateway to Hope Resource Center facing closure despite helping homeless
"I never thought I would be in this situation -- I would drive and see homeless people walking on the street, and I would wonder how they did it," Neal said.
He fell on hard times and joined their ranks in early January. Now he is looking for a job and depends on the services of the Resource Center to help in his employment hunt. Neal described the place as "a Godsend."
"I can use the Internet. There is a place to store my clothes and I can use the phones. ... All of these resources are invaluable," Neal said.
Earlier this month, the city of Tyler's Planning and Zoning Board voted not to renew Gateway to Hope's special use permit with the city for the requested five years and renewed the permit for only one year.
The board voted to make the change in the permit after a group of residents who live near the Resource Center, at 601 E. Valentine St., complained about homeless people at the day center littering, panhandling, stealing from businesses and loitering around homes.
But Executive Director Pat Mallory, who left her minister's position with First Baptist Church in June to create the Gateway to Hope, countered the neighborhood complaints during a recent morning visit to the shelter.
She said the Resource Center wants to be a good neighbor, and they are careful to pick up trash and keep the facility clean both inside and outside.
Ms. Mallory said they had moved a smoking area on the parking lot in front of the shelter that had been located close to a home to the other side of the parking lot at the homeowner's request.
Ms. Mallory said she was blindsided when the group of neighbors came to the meeting to protest the Resource Center.
"None of the neighbors has ever tried to come and talk to me directly about their concerns," Ms. Mallory said.
The city of Tyler owns the building, which it donated in March 2010, that houses the Resource Center, which opened in September after nonprofit leaders noticed a gap in services that the homeless need to better their lives.
City Manager Mark McDaniel said the decision to provide the building to Gateway to Hope was made after the mayor appointed a Task Force in 2011 to look into the homeless situation in Tyler.
"The Task Force issued a report in January 2012 that outlined a 10-point plan that included a recommendation for such a center, and the City Council unanimously voted in favor of conveying the property for use as a day resource room," McDaniel said in a statement.
A special use permit also was unanimously approved with certain restrictions and requirements, he said.
There are plans to offer G.E.D. classes in an adjoining city-owned building behind Gateway, Ms. Mallory said. The resource center, which normally operates from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., would stay open until 7 p.m. on the nights the classes are offered, she said.
"A lot of people are giving a handout. Here they will find all the instruments they need to go out and get a job," Ms. Mallory said of the homeless when the resource center first opened.
The homeless sign in to use the facilities, and each of them gets a hug when they first come in. "They are our babies," Ms. Mallory said during a recent morning visit to the center. The inside of the center is clean, with living room furniture similar to what is found in someone's home, and a large wooden dining room table and chairs.
Guests can sign in and wash clothes, take a shower, get clean clothes from the community closet and use one of the center's computers to search for a job and communicate with a potential employer.
Tyler Police Officer Shane Jasper comes to Gateway two to three times a week to create photo identification cards for the people who use the services there, and has never reported complaints from neighbors, Ms. Mallory said.
There is a small barber shop where a volunteer hair stylist comes in at least once a week to give haircuts, and a message center with two phones, mailboxes, and a bulletin board where phone messages can be placed. The phones can be used to call anywhere in the world, Ms. Mallory said.
It's difficult for a homeless person to find employment sometimes because they have no permanent address or phone number where an employer can make contact, she said.
Once a week, she takes people at the day center to the nearby Bethesda Clinic for medical care if they need it. The center is funded entirely by donations and all equipment, such as the washers, dryers and computers, are donated, Ms. Mallory said.
The 52-year-old just found work at Willow Brook Country Club as a greens keeper and said with pride that he has opened a bank account. "I am finally getting on my feet and can share the pride and excitement," he said.
Harris, who has been coming since December to Gateway, said the people there have been like a family to him. He said he became homeless a year ago, but it was a divorce 10 years ago that started him on a downward spiral, which ended in a prison stay.
Harris, who had been living in Fort Worth at the time, said that once he got out of prison, it was "impossible to find a place to live or a job" with a prison record and that he began to lose hope. "I drank, used drugs and lost hope," he said.
He said he found so much support at Gateway and has reconnected with his family. "I found so much support here. ... Miss Pat hugs me, and I have made friends here," Harris said.
Looking around the center, Harris said he has hope now "because of people like this, who love me unconditionally."
The 44-year-old said he has been homeless since 1999 and been coming to Gateway since January.
"I've been trying and trying to get my life together," he said. Jackson said he has been having grand mal seizures since the first grade, and it has been difficult for him to hold a job.
He recently had a major seizure that landed him in the Intensive Care Unit at East Texas Medical Center for eight days in February.
"I've been trying to find other ways to provide income," Jackson said, adding that he has an appointment with the Andrews Behavioral Center to see if he is eligible for any of their services.
One of the Gateway volunteers, Barbara Gilbreath, has helped Jackson apply for Social Security benefits.
"Miss Pat and Miss Barbara are like adopted mothers to me," Jackson said.
Barker said he and his wife Tammy are homeless. The couple were buying a home "and living paycheck to paycheck" when he lost his job in the telecommunications industry recently.
The two had to leave their home and have been coming to Gateway for the past three months. He said he learned about Gateway after the Salvation Army stopped offering a job program.
"I was surprised at the amount of help they offer here," Barker said of Gateway. He said he is grateful for the help they have offered him and his wife.
But Barker has had some good news to celebrate recently. After applying for "hundreds of jobs," across the country, he said he has accepted a position with a telecommunications firm in Wyoming and is waiting for his background check to be finalized before he can start.
"I'm really happy about it," he said.
The 42-year-old became homeless in 2009 because of financial problems, he said. He began coming to Gateway in November and said that the camaraderie there is the best part.
He has a job waiting at Wal-Mart pending a background check. Davidson said not all homeless people are drug addicts and alcoholics.
"I like this place, and I feel sorry for people who think we aren't doing the right thing (in coming to Gateway for help)," Davidson said.
Welch, 56, sat at a wooden dining table at Gateway on a recent morning and said that he sleeps outside on the ground "wherever I'm not intruding."
He became homeless in February after having seizures at night, he said.
"On Dec. 12, I had a seizure and lost my car, driver's license and job," Welch said.
With tears in his eyes, Welch said he is certain that if the City Council and the churches all work together that Tyler can set a model for the country.
Welch said he doesn't drink or use drugs and "couldn't believe" the welcome he received at Gateway when he first came to Tyler.
He said he challenges the city and the world to come up with a solution to homelessness.
"This is all I have," he said, gesturing to the living area at Gateway.
Don Warren, a volunteer for Gateway to Hope, helps Leroy Chelk by tying the tie that he is being given. Gateway to Hope has a clothes closet that they use to offer clothes to men, women and children who are in need. (Shannon Wilson/Staff)