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Parish Partners with Community to Turn Derelict House into Haven for Homeless Families

Mar 2, 2023

St. Edwards Episcopal Church

LAWRENCEVILLE, GA – Sometimes a gift can become a burden.

That was the case for St. Edward’s Episcopal Church when a gifted property began requiring more upkeep than the parish could afford.

The stately two-story columned home adjacent to the church had been bequeathed to the parish after the death of its owner. It had for years been useful as a space for group meetings, classes, and other church gatherings.

But by 2020 it needed major work.

Some members argued for selling the home and grounds to provide financial relief for the parish. Others said relinquishing the home would be a mistake.

Vestry member Jeannette Best-Nunez was among those for keeping the structure despite its problems.

“We were in the desert for a while, we were trying to find our way out of financial predicaments, losing parishioners, losing interest in the church,” Best-Nunez said. “We couldn’t use [the house] for anything because we had some mold issues over there. There were serious problems with the plumbing and the sewer.”

Vestry member Darcey Tatum was among those who thought it was a good idea to sell.

“We clashed over that,” Best-Nunez said. “And that was, you know, emotions ran pretty high.”

St. Edwards Home for the Homeless

Army retiree Tatum said he doesn’t remember getting emotional but said while the parish was embroiled in the dispute, God revealed other plans for St. Edwards after he discovered a teenage couple living in a tent behind the church.

Tatum, who had already retired twice – once after 25 years in the U.S. Army and a second time after 25 years as an international program manager, said he had decided that his third career would be helping people.

“I wanted to help people. So, it was a good opportunity. God sent Briana and Nick to do that. So, that was it,” Tatum said.

The vestry approved making some of the needed repairs and made part of the house livable for the teens.

Briana credits Tatum and St. Edward’s with making a dramatic difference in her and Nick’s lives.

“I was 15 during the time and it was one of those kind of runaway things. Just running off with your boyfriend. We had a tent back there; I think for only a couple of weeks before Darcey found us,” Briana said. “It had rained and flooded our whole tent. So, he found us on the step of the house.”

As church members busied themselves with helping the teens, Tatum and Best-Nunez had another encounter that would change the course of St. Edwards.

Carol Love, the executive director of Family Promise of Gwinnett County (GFP) was struggling financially from the effects of COVID-19. Previously churches had taken turns hosting homeless families as GFP work to help them get back on their feet.

Living Room of St. Edwards Home for the Homeless

But with COVID restrictions closing churches GFP was now spending a thousand dollars a week on motel rooms for their homeless families.

GFP had begun its program in the church’s house in 2005, so Love approached the church about using it to shelter multiple families.

Tatum said the church’s history with GFP made it an easy sell.

Love came to rely on Tatum’s experience.

“Darcy was amazing. He was my mentor in understanding how all of this works, the stages in the process, and who we needed to find” Love said.  “I’m like, I want to give the opportunity for people to give up their time, talent, and treasure. And God would just open the door.”

The door to 50 companies who donated over $250,000 of in-kind services and materials. All the engineering design documents were donated for free. The general contractor who donated his time. A $20,000 grant from the Episcopal Community Foundation. A donation of $74,000 worth of landscaping with which members of the church signed up to water.

Renamed Promise Haven, the house is being leased to GFP by St. Edward’s for five years at a rent of $1 a year. Renovations to the house allow it to serve up to three families (up to 11 people) at a time with a sleeping room for overnight volunteers and a separate apartment for the GFP house manager.

Valerie Curry, GFP Volunteer Coordinator at St. Edward’s, said the renovated property has significantly increased the parishes’ visibility within its community.

“Hundreds of ‘hands-on’ volunteers from dozens of other Christian faith communities come to our St. Edward’s property of Promise Haven to volunteer for this mission, significantly increasing our visibility in the county and the landscaping in front of Promise Haven makes it look like any other home in the neighborhood and not a shelter for the temporarily homeless,” Curry said in a report to the St. Edward’s vestry.

GFP’s Love credited the new facility to “God at work.”

 “One of the cool things about St. Edward’s is that the house that we renovated was our first day center. So, they had been heavily involved in helping us launch ourselves back in 2005,” Love said.

“And then, now to relaunch ourselves after COVID. So, to know that we are starting Family Promise 2.0 exactly where we started Family Promise 1.0, is just seeing God at work.”

Don Plummer is the beat reporter for The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. If you have story ideas, please reach out to Don.

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