ROCKINGHAM — The men at Place of Grace have a Christmas tree this year thanks to one man’s effort to get back on his feet.
Brian Flynn, 58, lost his wife a year ago Wednesday and has been living at Place of Grace for nine months, which also means he’s nine months sober.
Flynn has since gotten two jobs: two days a week at the Direct Pack plant across the street from the shelter and one at Lindsey’s Discount Tire, which also sells Christmas trees.
Flynn spent a week’s pay on two trees, one for the shelter and one for New Life Church next door. He said the church’s pastor, Gary Richardson, helped him so now he’s “helping back.”
“If it wasn’t for (Richardson) I’d be sleeping in a shed or a refrigerator box somewhere,” Flynn said.
Place of Grace is a men’s shelter started by Richardson in September 2014 following a fire that destroyed the Baker House shelter and soup kitchen the previous year and left many homeless without a place to go. It provides transitional housing for up to 16 men at a time while connecting its tenants with the faith community — “a hand up, not a hand out,” as Richardson says.
Flynn was a grounds attendant for 11 years at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets play, before moving down to North Carolina in 2014 for a chance at a better housing situation. When that fell through, he was left on the street. He estimates that he can move on from Place of Grace in three or four months.
The lights and ornaments were donated by Pamela Sikes Turner, who, when she heard the men at the shelter had gotten a Christmas tree, scavenged in her attic to find some unused decorations. Several of the men decorated the tree together on Wednesday.
“I have a big heart for those guys,” Turner said, who is known by many of Place of Grace’s residents as “mom.” Turner recently baked Christmas-themed desserts and held a cookout for them, and frequently donates “Sunday” clothes.
“Everybody deserves happiness on Christmas,” she said.
When new tenants want to stay at Place of Grace, they simply call or stop by and are then subjected to a drug test. If they test positive for drugs, they have to complete a detox program at a facility in Southern Pines before they are allowed to return. From there, they begin 30 days of writing Bible verses, two a day unless they have work.
“If you don’t do it you can’t be here,” said Wayne Deberry, the caretaker and a tenant himself. “It keeps them busy and it keeps them on the property.”
Throughout the week, the men attend church services, Bible studies, and group therapy sessions where they talk about what’s going on in their lives. They also volunteer to help people around town with whatever tasks they may need done.
Five days a week, the men get out on the street in front of the shelter for “street ministering” where they hold signs with spiritual messages and offers to pray with passersby. They also try to get people to “honk for the Lord.”
“We get a lot of response…people laying on their horns,” said Billy Hunt, 40, a tenant at Place of Grace for about a year, though he said he doesn’t “need to be.”
“I choose to be here,” Hunt said. He said a negative relationship led him down a bad path where he was surrounded by drugs and alcohol. When his car started failing him he had nowhere else to go.
“They’re helping me get my life back together,” Hunt said. “I pretty much destroyed my life.”
Now Hunt, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, is being patient with himself, staying at Place of Grace until he feels confident he’s in the right place spiritually to go back out on his own, which he said might be a “while.”
“It’s a good place, they gave me not only food and clothes but spiritual help,” Hunt said. “There’s hope. It gets better.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]