Ella Kliger – Contributing Writer

The mission of Macon New Beginnings is to help people who are homeless, jobless or at risk of being without housing. Since September 2015, 92 people have been helped along this continuum of care.

“Of those, 60 were prevention. There was a family with a child going through heart surgery, the father lost his job, and the mother was taking care of the child. We paid the rent, and he has since found a job and the heart surgery went well,” said Bob Bourke, president of Macon New Beginnings.

Macon New Beginnings has joined the Southwest Homeless Coalition which encompasses the seven westernmost counties of N.C. The organization plans to apply for HUD funding to help with expenses of housing and ideally to acquire some longer term shelter options.

“Getting access to that system [HUD] will help us to be more effective,” said Bourke.

Macon New Beginnings uses a proven intake form developed by the North Carolina Statewide Homeless Management Information System (NC HMIS). Clients are interviewed in a private setting to protect confidential information as well as to capture the data.

The Macon New Beginnings board consists of Debbie Bourke, secretary, Kerry Harrington, treasurer, Yvonne Johns and April Terry, members-at-large. Four of them have full-time jobs, yet make time to volunteer. The phone is answered throughout the day and outside of office hours because they know that issues can arise at any time. If someone leaves a message, the goal is to connect with the client within 24 hours.

“We get phone calls or referrals from CareNet, REACH, the police department, DSS. As part of the intake, we schedule an interview. We get the personal details. Every client is background checked, after the client signs a release,” Bob Bourke continued. “We insist that people take responsibility for their actions. We give them phone numbers and people to start contacting. And then it’s up to them.” Usually, they are provided with shelter for one week. After that week, clients are evaluated individually. Some folks are given two weeks of housing.

Debbie Bourke added, “And they have found jobs and a place to live,”  during that time. A major issue with a client moving into a new place is coming up with deposits. “Landlords have been accommodating. They forgive first, last (month deposits), we work with the electric company … most of local landlords have been understanding,” said Bourke.

“We focus on more than just the immediate homeless. Those in imminent danger of becoming homeless, have no job, people who are being evicted,” said Bob Bourke. “We have used four local hotels. For crisis shelters, in Murphy and Waynesville, you must be a resident of the county.”

Another aspect of their work is providing backpacks stocked with some emergency items such as personal hygiene products, shelf stable food, socks, an emergency blanket, plastic bags, a pencil and paper, reusable water bottle and hand sanitizer. Volunteers are able to use the backpacks as an immediate response to someone in need. To reach potential clients, the volunteers have shared information and networked at many places including the Veterans’ Stand Down, SCC job fairs, the Poverty Simulation at the United Methodist Church, and the Serving Spoon.

David and Bonnie Pickartz welcome the help they have given to the Serving Spoon. “They are there every Thursday night to help,” said Pickartz. In talking with people, they often find needs for which they have services. “What I really appreciate is that they are helping one person at a time and they are holding them accountable,” added Pickartz.

In accounting for their success, “First of all I give credit to the Lord. None of this would be possible without Him. Secondly, the community. Macon County has been just wondrous in support financially, and in helping people find homes. And lastly, the volunteers,” recounted Bourke.

The organization’s goals for 2016 include continuing to help homeless people and placing an emphasis on bringing in more volunteers. Fundraising is an ongoing project. The main objective is looking for long term solutions. “We have connected with motels, some folks that own RV parks, we’re looking at tiny homes, substantial properties and buildings, maybe those that are dilapidated. We are looking for what’s out there and what might be possible,” said Bourke. They also broached the subject with Tellico Christian camp. “That is one prospect that we’re praying very hard about,” added Bourke.

At the Feb. 1 Board of Aldermen meeting, a dozen volunteers showed their support of Macon New Beginnings as Bourke summarized their work. “Everybody, everyone, needs a safe place to call home. Our motto is helping the homeless, using Christian principles. We are motivated by the things that we do. Since the start, our goals were to promote awareness, to advocate for the homeless, to build capacity, and to transition the homeless into a home. One of the things that I have found extremely humbling is the number of children involved in the homeless situation. Of the people helped last year, 25 were children, in some cases, infants. When we originally presented to this board for the grant, we were thinking of 40 people – for the whole season. We helped 24 people just in the month of January.”

Through this work, Debbie Bourke said she found she is “involved a lot more in the community. Being able to help others, I think, has really touched my heart. I took care of my mom for eight years. She passed away in June. Since then, this has been my lifesaver, gave me a new rope to pull on.”

Bob interjected, “This is not about what people can’t do, this is what people can do. Not everybody can contribute financially, not everybody can do intake, not everyone can do searching around, but, everybody can do something, and wherever the Lord leads them, and whatever their skills are, we can use them.”

For more information, visit  http://maconnewbeginnings.org/

In the picture named MNB Board, the captioning is from L – R Bob Bourke, Debbie Bourke, Kerry Harrington, April Terry and Yvonne Johns.MNB Backpack 2