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VOL. 130 | NO. 113 | Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Door of Their Own

Memphians finding hope after life on the streets

By Don Wade

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First in a series of profiles on the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis’ GiVE 365 grantees.

Maybe during the four-plus years that Jackie Hinton was living on the streets of Memphis, you drove past her as she was walking to a shelter for a meal or a bed and a shower.

Or maybe one night you were in your car and getting on the interstate, driving under the bridge near what used to the vacant Pyramid and is now Bass Pro Shops. Maybe that shadow moving under the bridge, preparing for another night of “one-eye-open” sleep, was Deborah Payne.

Maybe you saw them. And maybe you didn’t.

“I felt invisible,” Hinton, now 49, said of her time on the streets. “I used to think the same thing when I’d see homeless people. It messes with your self-esteem.”

Said Payne, 58: “It tears you up.”

Door of Hope manager Billy Woods pull weeds with Debra Payne, left, and Jackie Hinton.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

On any given day about 2,000 people in Memphis are homeless, according to the Memphis Union Mission. Hinton and Payne are no longer among them, thanks to Door of Hope, a nonprofit incorporated in 2005 that defines its goal as trying to “end homelessness for Memphis’ most vulnerable population by providing housing and supportive services one door at a time.”

Hinton and Payne are “guests” at Door of Hope, which received one of the 2014 GiVE 365 grants through the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. The theme for the 2014 grants was “Collaboration for Change: partnerships that support creative problem-solving in the community.”

Door of Hope received a $10,000 grant for its Sowing Seeds for Success initiative that added gardening, nutrition and health and fitness programs to the supportive services provided to clients. Now, there are some garden beds and a new pavilion next to the Midtown house where 10 formerly homeless people, including Hinton and Payne, live.

In total, the co-ed Door of Hope is aiding more than 50 people with lodging or assistance at apartments, says executive director Porsha Goodman.

“We’re trying to use the garden project as a learning tool,” Goodman said. “It’s an opportunity for them to take ownership in something. And it gives them a sense of faith: ‘I can change; my situation can change.’”

Although the area set aside for the garden is small, there is plenty of variety in what has been planted: squash, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, watermelon, corn and okra, to name a few.

Door of Hope manager Billy Woods and case worker Lydranna Lewis locate blossoms on a squash plant in the nonprofit’s garden. Woods grew up on a farm in Mason, Tenn., and manages the gardens at Door of Hope’s Bellevue Boulevard facility.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Payne helped with the planting. Hinton has proven to be a good cook, Goodman says.

Clients at Door of Hope generally can stay indefinitely if there is a demonstrated need and a vacancy. Many have at least one complicating medical diagnosis, or substantiated disability or mental illness that inhibits their ability to work. They may or may not have substance abuse issues.

For some, Goodman says, reality is rather free flowing. The fact that a grandparent served in the military may translate into a woman believing she was a major in the Air Force. Another woman has occasional episodes of rage, a product of her bipolar disorder.

Trained social workers assist guests with medical care, mental health support and addiction counseling. Student nurses in training at Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences Department of Nursing teach preventive classes on such topics as personal hygiene and dental care.

Volunteers and clients join together for Bible study, a weekly writer’s group that produced a book, and money management lessons.

Hinton and Payne both say they have a greater sense of calm that was impossible on the streets. They came to know where to go for food, but where to sleep was always a concern. So was staying safe. Each fought off robbery attempts.

“I had to pull my blade and cut a guy on the arm,” Payne said.

Hinton, who has been at Door of Hope for more than a year, can’t imagine going back to living on the streets. She’s saving money from disability checks and dreams of moving to a smaller town where she’ll one day live on her own again.

But, for now, she is happy to have her own apartment door here and no deadline for when she has to leave.

“This is the only place with a length of time where we can get ourselves together.”

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