“I see myself in them. I see myself as a couple of bad breaks away from being homeless. I know what it is like to have your life fall apart. I know how to rebuild and how to grieve. That is part of what calls me to this work.”
Those are the words of Tom Parmenter, who became St. John Center’s newest staff member on August 31. His title is Housing Counselor and he works with the Center’s clients to help them qualify for housing and connect with any kind of resources they need.
Tom became familiar with SJC by being part of the Common Assessment Team from neighboring Phoenix Health Center. Since March 2014 he has spent some time each week interviewing St. John Center clients to help them qualify, and be placed on a waiting list, for permanent supportive housing.
“I had an opportunity once or twice a week to get a sense of the inner workings of St. John Center. I have a lot of respect for what they are doing,” Tom explained. “There is a real sense of integrity here. There is great respect for the dignity of every man here, and everyone is wedded to the purpose. This place does what it does, and does it very well. At St. John Center there is no discrepancy between the mission statement and what I see going on.”
A native of St. Joseph, MO, Tom holds a masters degree in counseling (psychological) from Ball State University. Previously he spent a lot of time working with juvenile justice in the child welfare system. Before that he served as the Director of Youth Ministry at a church.
Tom has one child, a 12-year-old daughter, from an earlier marriage. Last June he married a wonderful woman he met at church.
St. John Center appears to be a good fit for Tom, “This has always been my favorite shelter. The staff and volunteers have all made me feel very welcome,” he said. “It is an honor to witness the process of someone turning their life around.”
With the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year on June 30, there were 72 formerly homeless men participating in St. John Center’s permanent supported housing program.
Once a client is placed in housing, he continues to receive case management which is the reason more than 90 percent of the Center’s housing clients maintain their housing for at least a year, besting the national average of 80 percent.
Eventually some SJC housing clients do so well that they no longer need the help of a case manager to weather the storms of life. At that point they qualify for what locally is called the Move Up program.
HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program pays a percentage of their rent. For lack of a better term, St. John Center views this as a “graduation” from its housing program. It is an accomplishment and something to be celebrated.
Perhaps a mortarboard and gown are in order for Michael who at age 64 began receiving Housing Choice Voucher funding last February.
In four short years Michael has gone from homeless, to housed, to having the ability to handle life’s everyday challenges on his own. And while Michael has certainly taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given, he is quick to recognize the role St. John Center has played in his success.
“If not for St. John Center I probably wouldn’t have this place,” said Michael who keeps a supply of candy for visits from his grand kids. “The housing group meetings helped me learn how to live on my own again.”
SJC case manager Vickie Burks has been by Michael’s side throughout his journey. “Vickie has been good to me. She’s good people,” said Michael. “She made me grow up. I followed her advice. She told me what I needed to do. She has been helping me ever since.”
Vickie is happy to share in Michael’s success, but is proud to see how well he is doing on his own. “Michael has shown that he is very responsible in paying his bills on time and being in control of all other areas of his life,” Vickie explained. “This is why he was chosen to be a Move Up participant. We felt he was ready to move on without case management. He will be fine.”
Housing has been life changing for Michael who is now on disability due to his health. “I don’t have to depend on other people. It took a whole lot of burden off me,” Michael said.
A Louisville native, Michael has five sisters, three brothers, four grandchildren. “We are close. We get together just about every Sunday for church, and on special occasions and holidays,” he said.
Michael has this advice for anyone who finds themselves in a situation similar to his. “Check out St. John Center. Don’t give up. There is help out there.”
“Things were not going my way. I was going in the wrong direction. For a minute I gave up. I considered suicide.” Those were Frank’s thoughts during one of the darkest times of his life.
Just a few short years later the same man said, “I have been studying for three months to get my GED. I want to go to college to study graphic arts. I want to do something with my life. I don’t want to stay in my apartment all day. Nothing is going to come to me; I have to go get it.”
Frank’s decline was fueled by his abuse of alcohol at age 18. “Drinking was hurting my stomach. It cost me a job,” he said. Now 47, the Louisville native has been sober for more than a year.
One of six children raised by a single mother, Frank’s Mom was very important to him. When she died in 2003, Frank took it hard. “I was very close to my Mom. I cried like a baby when she died, but I have good memories of her,” he said.
It has been more than four years since St. John Center’s permanent supported housing program made it possible for Frank to move into his own apartment. Paulette Sublett is his case manager and she has been impressed with his progress.
“Frank has surpassed every goal he has set. Right now he is focused on getting a GED. He hasn’t missed a single class and is so excited. He flashes a huge smile when he talks about his classwork and homework,” said Paulette.
“Paulette is real nice and keeps me on my toes,” said Frank. “She got me going back to school. I can’t thank her enough for that.” Frank says he can already tell the difference in his reading ability. “I want to find a good job. I would love to work in the food industry,” he said.
Recently members of the SJC housing program were invited to participate in a series of six cooking classes with Chef Nancy Russman. Frank attended every session. He really enjoys cooking and has worked in the kitchens at an overnight emergency shelter and Churchill Downs.
“Frank has asked if he can attend additional St. John Center workshops because he loves the positive things happening in his life,” explained Paulette.
“St. John Center has helped me out a lot. If I didn’t have a case manager at St. John Center I don’t know where I’d be right now,” said Frank. “This place has been amazing and they’re still helping me.”
As if homelessness and alcoholism didn’t provide enough challenge, Frank decided to exorcise a third demon from his life when he stopped smoking seven months ago. “He is so excited and we are just as excited for him,” said Paulette.
Advocates for the homeless have recently re-energized the campaign to fully fund the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund (LAHTF). The LAHTF is a fund controlled by a local, private non-profit that makes money available – grants or loans – to housing developers to create new units of rental property for very low-income people, rehab existing or build new houses for working class families, provide services for case management, and provide funds for upkeep of current low-income homes.
The LAHTF was created in 2008 and has managed a little production of new houses using federal HOME funds dedicated by Metro Louisville. However, it will never get to scale until it has a dedicated funding stream.
The lack of enough affordable housing and case management support in Louisville is a big reason why St. John Center is so busy every day. A solution has been proposed. If Louisville increased the insurance premium tax rate by 1% or 63 cents a month (less than the cost of a 2 liter soft drink) that would support the creation of a $10.15 million revenue stream for affordable housing in our community.
St. John Center’s board of directors voted to endorse the funding of the LAHTF. Please voice your support of this solution to homelessness by contacting your Metro Council representative.
Due to the hard work of Connie Wallace, and the generosity of Steve and Jane Ratliff, owners of the Smyrna Inn, 8201 Smyrna Parkway, in Louisville, more than $3,000 was raised and 600 pairs of socks collected for St. John Center at an Oct. 19 fundraiser.
Each year Pat Shader leads a sock drive for the men of St. John Center. for the Ladies Auxiliary for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8639 in Okolona, . Connie, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary for the post, asked the Ratliffs, if she could put a box for donations in the business.
Steve, himself a veteran, offered to let her hold a sock drive fundraiser at the bar. The event wound up being a huge success.
There was great food (the meat for the cookout was provided by the Ratliffs), four live bands (Bill Collins, David Champion, Mike Rogers, Chasing Rabbits) donated performances, a number of quality items and services were auctioned, and financial contributions were accepted.
Oxmoor Toyota donated $1,500 and five oil changes, Eddie Corbett made a $200 gift and the Ratliffs, Key Family Dentistry, Theresa Powell, and the Cast Away Lounge all contributed $50 or more.