New ministry’s plan sparks discussion, debate
By BETH ALSTON
AMERICUS — A new local ministry seeks to provide shelter for homeless women and children in the community, and to provide them with the skills necessary to become home owners. The news of the ministry and its intentions has not been met with great success in the local community, not according to social media. The news of a donation of a house in the historic district to the ministry has further fueled the fire of controversy.
Kirk Lyman-Barner is on the board of the new nonprofit, Americus-Sumter Transitional Housing Inc. In a press release Lyman-Barner explained how the new ministry came to be.
“Several months ago, Evangelist Buford Snipes had a vision that she shared with the Sumter Area Ministerial Association (SAMA) about a holistic ministry that would help families who have fallen on hard times. SAMA commissioned a task force that met every two weeks at the Americus-Sumter Fuller Center for Housing.
“We studied what the need was by learning from the stories of pastors and like-minded neighbors who were trying to address the issue of shelter. We visited the Friends On A Mission Relief Shelter managed by Friendship Baptist Church on Cotton Avenue and learned that they can accept women or men, but if a mother had children, for safety reasons they could not be accepted into the shelter.
“We also learned about what a holistic mentoring program would involve. We would utilize existing community resources plugging recipients into: education (GED, SGTC and GSW) and or job training, employment opportunities, addiction counseling, access to reliable transportation, access to affordable healthcare and mental healthcare, counseling (i.e. marital, parenting, spiritual as needed), homeownership training, identify resources/programs existing in Southwest Georgia utilizing research done by Family Connections, DFCS, CASA, Perry Wellness Center and others.
“The vision began to crystalize. We would seek a web of properties in dispersed neighborhoods to serve as rental units to help women and their children stabilize for a lease period of one year and then return to the existing housing market.
“Property maintenance will be required so that families are prepared with the knowledge, skills and commitment to meet landlord expectations of their tenants or what is involved with homeownership. Some of their lease money will be set aside so that they can make utility and rental deposits when they graduate from the program.
“On any given day in our area there are 200-250 houses available for sale or rent. The problem is that the landlords and sellers are not finding suitable tenants or qualified buyers. We hope to bridge this problem one family at a time.
“Just 48 hours after our committee decided to incorporate and to seek properties, attorney Tim Lewis called me out of the blue and offered us the house on 402 College. We visited it and inspected the fire damage and determined that although it needed a lot of work, it was an ideal property for our first transitional home. The blighted, empty, and fire damaged house currently is a drag on property values and public safety. We will restore it to its original historical beauty and use the structure as it is without modifications that would disrupt the neighborhood dynamics.
“Being religious folks, we’re certain God is partnering with us on this community effort. People began contacting us offering to help with repairs, financial literacy training and the mentoring program design.
“If anyone has questions or concerns, they are invited to visit with me at my office across the street from the Windsor, next to Café Campesino at 132 W. Lamar or is welcome to call me on my cell phone at 229-942- 9025.
“ I’ve been involved with housing issues all of my adult life. I can honestly say that this effort has given me more energy than I’ve had in a long time because it is a common sense approach to help folks and make a difference in our community. If it is the kind of work that excites you, we would love to have your help.”
Lyman-Barner, owner of Client First Insurance Solutions, downtown Americus, can also be reached via email at email@example.com
When Tim Lewis and Brad Ray, former residents of Americus, decided to donate their house on West College Street to the ministry, social media lit up and has continued to be filled with comments and opinions. The exchanges become heated at times. The house was severely damaged by a fire in December 2015.
At the crux of the controversy is that the house is in the City’s historic district, and nothing can be done to the property without first going before the Historic Preservation Commission. Some of the neighborhood residents are in favor of the plan, while others are opposed.
The scenario should spin out over the next several months.
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