There are new rules and plans for expansion since a new board of directors took over day-to-day operations at Harvest House in December.
Walk into Harvest House today and you’re met with the unmistakable sound of children playing. You’ll hear their feet pounding as they run across the wood floor and their laughter echo through the house.
New management took over Dec. 1 at Boonville’s shelter for homeless people. Dan and Patti Brewer, Jennifer Myers and Ed Noser make up the new board of directors, and they’re serving as in-house managers, as well.
Harvest House previously employed a resident manager who lived in and ran the house. The new board, all of whom were homeless at some point in their lives, thought that was unnecessary. Most who stay in the home are adults, and young children typically are there with family.
There always is at least one board member around the house, which is now open 24 hours, instead of just overnight. But the adult residents can run the house themselves, Dan Brewer said.
Harvest House will admit anyone who passes a criminal background check by the Boonville Police Department, according to its website. If you don’t have outstanding warrants, aren’t presently using illegal drugs or alcohol, and don’t have a record of child abuse, domestic abuse or assault or sex crimes, you’re welcome.
You won’t find many locked doors inside the house, either. Before, the basement laundry room and pantry were restricted. Residents were allotted a certain time to do their wash, and they couldn’t go into the pantry themselves, Brewer said.
Now, the laundry room is wide open. A washer and dryer recently donated by the Cooper County Ambulance Service sits along one wall, with a few other sets spread around the room. The pantries also are open.
“I just said, ‘Use it wisely,’” Brewer said. “It’s all been working out fine.”
In one pantry is a recently donated deep freeze, already filled to the brim with donated food. It’s a testament to the community’s generosity, Brewer said. He said the community has been unbelievable in how much it’s given and donated.
Striving to be a spiritual light
“Sometimes we get this idea that people are homeless because of something they did,” Brewer said. “Sometimes it’s just life.”
He had been doing well for himself before the market downturn and other struggles, and he lost it all in 2010. He wound up without a home for the second time in his life, and worked hard to get back on his feet. People coming through Harvest House want to do the same, he said. One man came in on a Friday night with his family. Early Saturday morning, he was out looking for a job.
“Nobody asked him to, he just did,” Brewer said.
The next week, the man had a job lined up at the Isle of Capri casino.
“It’s tear-jerking to see how God is restoring his people,” Brewer said.
Sometimes all people need to get on the right track is a chance. Boonville has accessible resources for financial planning, mental health and education, but people don’t always know what those are, Brewer said. The Harvest House board tries to lead them in the right direction.
The house previously had different programs for its residents. The new board has taken the limit off the 30-day program where residents were supposed to find a job. The board still wants residents looking for work, but Brewer said it can be difficult for some to do in 30 days, so they want to deal with people on a case-by-case basis.
The 120-day program required residents to have a source of income and participate in a savings program, where they gave a portion of their income to the house to save up and return to them at the end of their stay. Brewer said the house will start up the savings program again in the new year, but won’t necessarily hold people to the 120-day limit.
Finding work for residents is still a priority. Brewer said there’s work available in Boonville and nearby communities. The house gets calls from businesses looking for people to work, and Brewer said he’ll send available residents over.
Above all, Harvest House strives to be a spiritual light, Brewer said. He said he’s reached out to a two Boonville churches about working together, and plans to reach out to more.
“A shelter is more than a roof,” he said. “If they leave without knowing the Heavenly Father cares for them, we’ve failed.”
The community provides
The Harvest House has some public funding, including a grant from the City of Boonville, funded by the half-cent capital improvement sales tax that voters last approved in 2015. Still, it relies mainly on the support of the community and private donors.
A renovation of the downstairs bathroom in 2013 was made possible by a donation from Boonville First Baptist Church. In 2017, the Isle of Capri and MFA Oil foundations funded a new roof for the near-century-old house, according to the Harvest House website. People also have donated food, clothes, supplies and even Christmas presents.
“How do you say ‘Thank you,’ for all they’ve done for us?” Brewer asked.
One thing the house needs now is canned goods, but Brewer is pretty sure that will fall into place.
A family came through recently with a child who was potty-training age, Brewer said. The mother asked if there was a seat for the child. Patti Brewer looked around, but couldn’t find one. So she went home, but there wasn’t one there, either. When she got back to Harvest House about 15 minutes later, there was a box out front with a seat inside.
A vision for expansion
Brewer said with the blessings of God and a generous community on their side, the new board is up to the task of running Harvest House, and expanding it. The house has a capacity for 55 beds, but only has around 30 now. The board bought more beds Wednesday and will have them before the end of the year. Based on the number of calls Harvest House has received recently, Brewer said he expects them to be full up by the end of the year.
“I hope this place will be so full we’ll have to break ground on something new,” Brewer said.
The house already has one transitional duplex for those who are ready to take the next steps toward finding a permanent residence. Dan and Patti Brewer see room on the two-and-a-half-acre lot for more duplexes or dormitory-style housing.
“Whatever the need is, that’s what we’re going to accommodate,” Dan Brewer said.
He had a hand in the major expansion of Harvest House in 2005, when he helped construct a six-bedroom add-on named after the House’s original founders, the Rev. Earl and Mary Jackson.
That’s been opened up, too. It used to be the women’s area, and one room was reserved for the resident manager. Now, they’re all open for families.
“We don’t want to turn a family away,” Brewer said.
Though they were built over a decade ago, Brewer still has plans for the family rooms. He said he visited some shelters in Columbia and noticed how bare the walls were, and how it felt like a prison. He said he thought it would be a good idea for people to “adopt” a room and decorate it.
“They can write up scripture verses on the wall, put up paintings, anything to make it feel like home,” he said.