Homeless shelter begins new year with expanded hours

Steve Nash / Brownwood Bulletin
Brown County Home Solutions,which is located at the former Avenue D Baptist Church in Brownwood, was created to address homelessness in Brown County.
Linda Heitman (left), executive director of Brown County Home Solutions, and caseworker Ashley Pruitt are pictured in Heitman's office.

For Brown County Home Solutions, 2020 finished on a good note and the organization looks to a promising 2021.

“2020 was a great year of expanded services, and we are moving forward with eager expectations for 2021,” Brown County Home Solutions Executive Director Linda Heitman posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

Brown County Home Solutions exists to addressing homelessness in Brown County through community assistance, transitional housing and an inclement weather homeless shelter.

The inclement weather shelter in the former Avenue D Baptist Church building, where the Brown County Home Solutions office is located, has been able to expand its hours. The hope is for staffing and funding to reach a point where the shelter can be open full time, Heitman said.

A recent state grant provided funds for the organization to hire its second paid staff member — Ashley Pruitt, who works part time as a case manager.

“I’ve just been really overwhelmed with gratitude for everything that God has done for us,” Heitman said. 

The shelter needs additional volunteers who can commit to “giving an evening or an overnight,” Heitman said.

Heitman posted about an event in late December:

“A woman walked in very hesitantly,” Heitman posted. “ She said someone told her this was a shelter. I assured her it was and please come in. She told us she has been living in her truck for two months and had two daughters that her mom let them stay, with but not her, and although she had a place to stay tonight, she was hungry.

“We invited her to stay and eat and invited her to come back in the morning for breakfast and to meet with me, explaining that I meet with everyone who stays in the shelter to see what else we can do to help with ID, a job or finding a place to live, and she started crying.”

Heitman told the woman the shelter has two bedrooms specifically for families with children and she welcome to stay at the shelter with her children. Heitman also told the woman the Texas National Guard had provided the shelter with a large amount of toys, and invited her to pick out toys for her children.

“She again started to cry, thanking us and saying this town has needed something like this for a long time,” Heitman posted. “I love my job and am so very thankful that God has led me to this ministry of helping people.

 "I am also so very thankful for all of the wonderful, caring people in this community who stepped up when I asked for volunteers to staff the shelter so we could be open all day (New Year’s Eve). I had everyone I needed within an hour.”

Speaking later in her office, Heitman talked more about the event. “You have those moments where you get to help somebody and you hear their story,” Heitman said.  It really speaks to your heart. It made me very thankful that I have the privilege of doing this job that I love so much and is making a difference in people’s lives.”

The shelter opens at 5 p.m., a meal brought by volunteers is served around 6 and the doors are locked at 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., the shelter takes in only those from emergency services.

Breakfast is served the next morning, and those who stayed overnight are gone between 7 and 8 a.m. If there is a cold snap and the temperature won’t be above freezing during the day, the shelter will stay open for the day.

Heitman said she meets with those who stay at the shelter and asks  “what do we need to do to help you?"

“We had a guy who stayed here for 10 days and I helped him get his ID, helped him get into an apartment, and he moved out into an apartment," Heitman said.

“We’ve had people who have come into the shelter who have gone into the transitional housing program. My newest shelter worker came in through the shelter and was accepted into the transitional housing program. So he’s in the program but he’s also working every night in the shelter. It’s making a difference in people’s lives.”

The shelter has a capacity of 21. Five bedrooms upstairs can accommodate up to 16, and five cots have been placed downstairs.

Heitman said plans are to keep the shelter open nightly through the winter. She thinks the shelter can open full-time by the fall. 

“My vision for this place has always been that the shelter be a starting point to connect people with help if they want it,” Heitman said.