MASON COUNTY — No one expects, or hopes, to become homeless.
“But so many people are living just one or two paychecks away from it,” said Wayne Bailey, director of the Mason County Homeless Shelter.
Bailey has been working at the shelter for four years, and in the social work and counseling field for around 20 years.
He said that the shelter, which has been here since the late 1990s, sees a lot of decent people who have simply hit a hard phase.
“Sometimes we meet them on the worst day of their lives,” Bailey said.
He added that on arrival people are in shock, scared and confused.
One resident, who has been at the shelter with her daughter for about a month and a half, described her experience after moving to the area. Her name is being withheld to protect her privacy.
“We arrived in Charleston and couldn’t find a job or a place to live,” she said. “We ended up here, which was a blessing. We were panicked. We’d run out of money and resources.”
She said that without the shelter, she didn’t know what she and her daughter would have done. Now they job-hunt every day and have a safe place to go to night. They are determined, she said, to do well.
“Wherever I end up,” she said, “I will find a way to give back to this place.”
Bailey said the shelter sees a diverse group of people, some from as far away as Washington State and Louisiana. Some of the people who come from farther away are just passing through, some stay longer. Most of the people are from this region, though, he said.
“One couple walked up here from Huntington. We were concerned, but they turned out to be great people. They’re back in Huntington now and employed. The woman just finished up her degree. We have a lot of good stories like that.”
“Some people hit the ground running,” Bailey added. There are people who come in, are here for a couple of months and just excel.”
Recently, Bailey said, a young mother with two children under four years old stayed at the shelter, and was able to save enough money to buy a trailer and move out within a couple of months.
“Some of the stories are heart-warming like that,” he said. “Some aren’t so simple, of course.”
The physical environment of the shelter is much like a family home, with a family room, a female dorm and a male dorm and an overflow room which always has a bed or two set up.
“Twelve is considered capacity, but we frequently go above capacity. Ideally we would have people here for 30-45 days, although we tend to have people a bit longer,” Bailey said.
In terms of day-to-day running of the place, one staff member is always on duty.
“They help residents find jobs, make sure chores are getting done, and that there are people working on fixing meals,” Bailey explained.
The shelter also serves 301 meals to non-residents each year.
“We do breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if someone comes at 10 at night and is hungry, we can fix them a sandwich,” said Bailey.
Staff member Nicky Holcomb added that non-residents, who are often living in the woods, can come to the shelter at any time for help.
“They can get a hot meal, a hot shower, wash their clothes,” Holcomb said. “Whatever they need, we’ll do our best to meet those needs.”
Some people arrive knowing how to cook, Bailey said. Some are even former chefs. But for those who need more guidance in the kitchen, basic instruction on food preparation and cooking is provided by staff members.
Funding for the shelter is provided by a grant from the Department of Health and Human Resources.
“We’re also funded through a grant from Emergency Solutions. The combination of those two would not be enough to run the shelter; we rely on donations and funding from Southwestern Community Action Council,” said Bailey.
The shelter always has to operate on limited money.
“We’re always looking at ways to save money. Teresa, the staff member who shops, uses coupons and is constantly looking for the best deals,” added Bailey.
Bailey said that the Mason County community has been very supportive.
“In terms of a supportive community, I’ve never seen a better one,” Bailey said. “The downside is that there just aren’t a lot of jobs here, and there’s no public transportation.
“But four of our 11 people are employed,” Bailey said. “And most of them are out right now looking for employment.”
Bailey said that people are on a path that sometimes leads them to the shelter; his aim is to help provide a path that isn’t rigid, but helps them find their own way.