ROCKINGHAM — Three months after the Baker House homeless shelter’s demolition, two Richmond County men have prepared a place where those in need can dwell in safety.
A community kickoff and fundraiser is planned for Sept. 6 and will serve as a potluck, cookout and meet-and-greet to introduce The Place of Grace, a fledgling tent city outside Rockingham.
The Rev. Gary Richardson of New Life Church at 525 Airport Road reached out to several agencies who advocate for the area’s homeless, offering to share the one thing he had — plenty of space.
“The goal of every church is to help people,” Richardson said. “We don’t have a lot of resources, but we do have land. We have approximately 25 acres here. I had a special service and invited several groups with an interest in helping the homeless. I offered them use of this land. No one took me up on it.”
It was just what Mark Joplin was looking for, although he didn’t know it at the time.
“When he first approached me about it, I threw it out.” Joplin said. “About a week later, I came back very humbly and asked if the offer was still good. This land is outside the city limits, making it suitable.”
It was a change of heart that brought the two men together to form a solid, shared vision.
Richardson, who in 2001 officially affiliated with the Dream Center of Los Angeles, has an extensive background working with those plagued by addiction, poverty and despair.
“I spent eight days in LA working with the missions there, and brought it back with me to Richmond County,” Richardson said. “I did street ministry behind Swink Oil Co. from 2001-05, and we still do it out in the community.”
Joplin incorporated the nonprofit organization Transitional Services of Richmond County in early August and knew that his goal was to do something tangible to improve the outlook for people living on the streets.
“Our vision is to allow a safe haven for people to change,” Joplin said. “Once they come in, and they come in on their own or are referred by other shelters, they’ll go through an intake process to assess their needs, and with Pastor Gary’s permission, they can have the opportunity to transition to a better way of life. You could say that this is my goal and his vision. This is a New Life Church project. I’m just putting it together.”
Joplin said donations have been pouring in from Washington, Texas, California and Florida from groups who have supported tent cities for the homeless in other parts of the country.
Joplin and Richardson believe the location of The Place of Grace is ideally situated between Rockingham and Hamlet and will make access to and from either city more convenient. They are working with Area of Richmond Transit to provide the residents of the new community rides back and forth to Rockingham and Hamlet on Wednesdays.
What will begin as 25 acres of land with several portable toilets, an outdoor movie screen and a 250-gallon tank for supplying fresh water — which they bought from Jason Currie for only $25 — is expected to become Richmond County’s first tent city. Tents have already been donated, but the ultimate goal is far more impressive.
“We plan to put up a permanent shelter out here for men, women, children and victims of domestic violence,” Joplin said. “There will be computers, people to assist with job resources, FAFSA writing and education.”
“At the Dream Center, that’s what we did,” Richardson said. “And agencies will come together.”
Joplin said key helpers are already in place: a doctor, nurses, counselors and substance abuse counselors who have agreed to work with those who seek refuge in The Place of Grace.
“Any time God is involved in an effort, people come together and help,” Richardson said. “It is my hope that all the other organizations will feel welcome to come out and become part of this, too. Even if they didn’t in the past. Our arms are wide open.”
“We have invited the Richmond County Rescue Mission to transport their demographic and (homeless) clients to the kickoff to eat and see what is happening,” Joplin said. “It’s not about me or Pastor Gary… It’s about nothing but them — the people who need it.”
For more information about the Sept. 6 kickoff event or to attend or volunteer, call 910-730-4694 and look up Transitional Services of Richmond County on Facebook.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.