The Cullman area currently has no homeless shelters for men. A group of local churches and agencies is working to change that. / Image courtesy pixabay
The American church has tragically reduced God’s word to mere information instead of the real purpose which is the transformation of people into the fullness of the image of Christ in character and conduct.”– Tom Fillinger
CULLMAN COUNTY – In 2016, Cullman County agencies and charities assisted 106 families that were homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. For 2017, more specific numbers were available: 58 homeless families receiving services were identified as homeless, and another 83 were at risk of becoming homeless.
Cullman County currently has two homeless shelters which can care for women, but none for men. The closest men’s facilities are located in Decatur and Oneonta. A group of churches and local agencies coordinated by Cullman’s Tom Fillinger hopes to change that by opening a men’s shelter in Cullman.
At a December meeting of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce at Rumor’s Deli, a discussion about competition for revenue provoked Fillinger to remark, “You know, if churches would work collaboratively instead of competitively–and I’m a church consultant, so I know what I’m talking about–we could accomplish a lot of things.”
At that point, another attendant stated the need for a men’s shelter in the Cullman area. Then, according to Fillinger:
“Leah (Bolin) piped up and said, ‘Tom, would you coordinate that effort?’ So that’s how I ended up talking to you.”
Timing is everything
“And the amazing thing,” continued Fillinger, “when I contacted Andy Heis at Desperation (Church), he said, ‘Well, Tom, that’s a good idea,’ but said, ‘We tried that three, four years ago, and nobody was interested.’ I said, ‘Well, Andy, timing is everything in kissing and baseball!’ I said, ‘There’s obviously interest now.’
“Every person that I sent an email to, with one or two exceptions where I didn’t get an answer . . . all the churches and all the individuals, The Link (of Cullman County), and the organizations that I called, they all said ‘Yeah, we want to be part of that.’ So the timing was right.”
The various entities have already gotten together for an informal meeting, and plan to meet again on Feb. 1. Fillinger sat down with The Tribune on Monday to talk about the group and what it hopes to do:
“There were Daystar and First Baptist, Christ Covenant, Desperation and Crosshaven, were the five churches that were there. The Link had representatives there, and the chamber of commerce had representatives there. There were 11 people at our first meeting, and I think there will be 13 or 14 people at the meeting on Feb. 1.
“And so, where we are now: with five of the largest churches, there certainly should be adequate funding and volunteer personnel to staff the thing. Leah’s looking at–there’s all kinds of empty buildings in Cullman–so she’s looking at a suitable place. I just spoke to Martha Burchell about insurance, because you’re going to have to have liability insurance.
“And my intention is that it’ll be a very spartan endeavor. In other words, you’ll come in at five in the evening, you’ll have a place to lay down, a restroom and a shower, and you’ll be out of there at seven in the morning.
“So what we will need from the churches: I suggested a couple hundred dollars a month. Others may want, because I’ve had–since people found out about this–I’ve had people speak to me that want to be a part of it. They’re volunteering their money, etc. One of the suggestions that came up was, for instance, if we had a person that’s retired but had a heart for this, they could be like a part-time superintendent, or whatever you would call them. Because you can’t have that element of society thrown into a building with no supervision. And we have to have some standards. You know, we want to help people that genuinely want and need help, but we’re not going to be a drug haven, you know. If you’re buzzed up, you’re not going to be in there. And so we have to get some policies developed.”
The group is looking to respond to three particular issues in its early planning:
- Facility – locating a suitable place in or near Cullman
- Funding – securing the necessary fiscal resources to make the operation a success
- People/Staffing – getting the volunteers needed
Under its longer-term goals, the group hopes that the shelter can become a mechanism to help break the cycle that leads to homelessness by helping men develop life skills, find jobs and locate permanent housing.
FIllinger hopes that the program will be a ministry, not just to shelter men, but to make a positive difference for them in the long run.
“That’s why I got involved,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to change some lives.”
The group’s next meeting will take place at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce office on Feb. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, contact Tom Fillinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-472-3764.
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