Standing in the freshly stocked kitchen of the former Avenue D Baptist Church, Linda Heitman said the building is two to three weeks away from opening as an inclement weather shelter for the homeless.
Heitman is executive director of Brown County Home Solutions (BCHS), the nonprofit organization created to address homelessness in Brown County. Upgrading the poor condition of the former church building into an inclement weather shelter has paralleled BCHS’s goal of building Legacy Village, a community of tiny homes for the homeless adjacent to the church.
Months of work and fundraising have paid off, and while there is still work to be done at the former church building, Heitman anticipates a January opening. “I’m thinking within the next two weeks, three weeks at the outside,” Heitman said.
The building’s second floor will contain overnight space for up to 16 people. The upstairs will also contain a rest rooms, laundry facilities and a living area.
A dining area for supper and breakfast, as wll as additional rest rooms, will be downstairs near the kitchen. BCHS plans to install a shower room later.
The shelter will accept women and families, including men who are part of the family unit, Heitman said. Single men will be sent to the New Beginnings church.
Heitman said Leesa Stephens, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries, told her recently that “there were several times last winter she could have filled me up with women and families who had nowhere to go. And I get calls regularly.”
Heitman said the shelter will open for the night if the temperature is expected to drop to 32 degrees or lower with no wind, or to 36 degrees or lower with wind or precipitation. The shelter will open at 5 p.m. for the night, and those who stay there will leave by 7 or 8 the next morning, Heitman said.
When the shelter is open, a volunteer will be on staff at the shelter for the entire night.
When asked how the homeless will be informed that the shelter has opened for the night, Heitman said she will notify law enforcement, the fire department and the Salvation Army, and put notices on Facebook and in the media.
“I’ve found in the homeless community there is an amazing communication network,” Heitman said. “The word gets out.”
Heitman said the City of Brownwood has helped BCHS in several ways including "helping me navigate the building codes. They answer questions any time I have them. They have been very, very helpful and I have really appreciated everything that they have done,” Heitman said.
“They have helped me find ways to do things better and cheaper and still meet the standards.”
On Jan. 23, BCHS will take part in a project by the Lubbock-based Texas Homeless Network to get a count of the homeless population in Brown County. On that day, every Texas county will attempt to count the homeless population, and Heitman is seeking volunteers to help.
“It’s important for the community to know how big the problem is here,” Heitman said. “It’s important for me for grant writing purposes and also for law enforcement. It’s just important information to have — where they’re at, to be able to connect with them, to let them know about the shelter and other services that are possibly available.
“We will go out in the community, we will go to where we know that they are. There’s a survey we fill out. It gets information about who they are, where they are, are they a veteran, are they claiming domestic violence, what the demographics are and if they want to connect up with other services. And that’s one of the things I’m wanting to do with this shelter, is have this be a starting point of connecting people with other services.”
Heitman said Brownwood Police Chief Ed Kading, who recently became a member of the BCHS board, is finding out from police officers where the homeless congregate. City code enforcement workers also know where the homeless are, Heitman said.
The Texas homeless Network oversees a count of the homeless population twice a year — once in January and again in August, Heitman said.