SMARM program fights homelessness

Apr. 21, 2014 @ 10:12 AM

 Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries assists thousands of people every year, giving them a boost when times are tough. But how do you make sure those who get assistance have the support they need to be successful?

Hearts to Home is a new program that offers permanent housing for those who need it. And along with that comes mentoring, as trained persons work with those in their new homes to ensure they can make a budget, buy wisely and keep their residences in good shape.

The mentoring program, meant to be short-term, is for those in Hearts to Home and those caught up in the court system who are trying to come back and be productive in society.

“The purpose of Hearts to Home is to decrease homelessness in Sevier County,” Carol Burr, who chairs SMARM’s housing committee, says.

The priority for those getting housing goes to established Sevier County residents.

Among the areas of support:

 Financial, in the form of contributions and grants.

 Material support, such as household goods and furniture. SMARM’s Treasures From the Heart thrift stores are good for this.

Practical, which includes help with grocery shopping to ensure those getting help buy the most from their own budgets.

 Relational support. “We want to build relationships,” Burr said of the mentors and clients. “We don’t want them to see us as someone to be afraid of. This may mean we give them a piece of Jesus.”

There are already a dozen or so people serving as mentors, according to Dick Wellons, executive director of SMARM. More are needed.

“The whole point is to pass on your expertise to folks who do not have that,” Wellons said. “This is the season of entitlement. Everybody owes everybody something. Our whole mission at SMARM has been to get people assistance, but to assist them to become successful. The mentor makes sure they are not enabling people but empowering them.”

Tom Williams, former Sevier County resident who now lives in North Carolina, serves on the SMARM board and as a mentor. He learned of a similar program in Asheville and thought it would be a good one for SMARM.

“We talked for years at SMARM about what we can do to cut into the cycle of poverty,” Williams said. “If you can demonstrate the love of Christ to them, that can make all the difference.”

SMARM helps fund housing, but does not serve as landlord for those in the Hearts to Home program. Ideally churches would be matched with clients to assist them in the transition. First priority goes to families with children.

“They must be able to actively participate in the program,” Burr said.”This is not a program in which we do it for them. We give them the tools.”

SMARM thoroughly reviews prospective clients before they can be considered for housing and provides help after they are placed. The housing, which SMARM must approve, is leased in the client’s name, and they have to abide by the lease agreement. They must be working or have other income such as disability payments.

The local probation office screens clients who have been in the court system and need mentoring. Meetings between mentor and client can take place at the probation office.

Mentors are provided to clients either in new housing or who have been through the court system.

For more information or to become a mentor, contact Wellons at 908-3153, email to dwellons@smarm.org or visit smarm.org.

Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries is a nonprofit faith-based agency serving the poor and needy in Sevier County.