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More than just a homeless shelter

Jon Barnes is meeting goals and making strides towards a better life by working the Compassion House program.

Jon Barnes thought he had a pretty normal life.

“I was living in Park Rapids; I had a partner with three kids, I had a job…things were going pretty good,” said Barnes.

But a couple of years ago, that all came crashing down.

He and his significant other broke up, he went bankrupt, lost his house and then began to really self-destruct.

“I got a DWI,” he said, “and because I had to spend 20 days in jail, I lost my job. So in one foul swoop I was homeless, jobless and I lost my pickup. It all changed just like that,” said with a snap.

Barnes went to treatment for alcohol before landing in a shelter in Perham.

But his struggles have kept coming, and although he has had his share of jobs over the past couple of years, those struggles have proven a bigger part of his life than the jobs.

Today, he is just one of the men who call The Compassion House in Detroit Lakes their temporary home.

When asked where he would be if he didn’t have the Compassion House, his words were nothing if not honest.

“Oh, I don’t know — I probably would have had to do something to get myself housed in jail for the winter,” he said, smiling but serious.

The house rules

Homeless shelters in this region tend to be busting at the seams during the coldest months, but for the 40-person bed at the Compassion House, they have a lot of room left at the inn.

“We’ve got 17 men here right now,” said Lynette Price, director of the facility.

Price says although the number of residents has slowly been climbing since opening up last summer, she believes the winters will have no effect on them.

“We tend to attract a different type of clientele,” she said, “The men who come here have already decided that they don’t like the path they are on and they want to change it.”

There are strict rules at the Compassion House that may always keep occupancy in check.

There is zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol, getting jobs are a requirement and everybody must continually be setting new goals and proving they are reaching for them.

After around 6:30 p.m., nobody gets to leave unless they are in class or at work.

There is a house meeting every night where residents get their chores, which includes not just keeping their own spaces clean, but working together to help keep the common areas clean as well.

They are all actively going through a transition from being in a place where they need help to a place of self-sufficiency.

“Our motto is ‘From homeless to wholeness’” said Price, who says the Christian-based organization doesn’t force residents to go to church, but they highly encourage them.

“As long as they are staying here, they have to be working on seven areas of development,” explained Price, which includes financial, mental, physical, spiritual, home and family, work and service, and emotional.     

Non-compliance means the door, and Price says they have had to kick men out of there for not sticking to the rules.

And at the Compassion House, there is no free ride.

Although it does include a five-bed emergency shelter for men who simply need a place to stay for a day or two, the majority of the residents fall either in the transitional shelter on the main level or the transitional living facility, which is designed on the upper level in pods.

Residents in the transitional shelter pay $8 a day to be there.

“And they can be there for up to 30 days,” said Price. “During that time they are getting paperwork done and getting a job. They’re getting ready to work full time and getting on with their lives.”

Right now seven men are in the shelter; all but 2 have a job.

“We couldn’t do this without the businesses in this town that hire these guys and give them a chance,” said Price.

In the transitional living facility, residents have already proven themselves capable of bringing in a steady paycheck, and pay $400 a month to live there. That includes meals as well.

For the four men who are currently staying in those rooms, there is no particular time limit on their stay.

“As long as they continue to set and meet goals,” said Price, “and at first that may mean simply setting up a checking account, but the longer they stay, the bigger their goals get.”

Barnes is just about to make that jump from the transitional shelter to the transitional living, as he is expecting his first fulltime paycheck from SJE Rhombus soon. He helps to distribute small electrical parts.

“It’s a little hard on the fingers, but boy am I glad to have it,” he said, adding that he’s also glad to have a place like the Compassion House to help him get back on his feet again.

“Just to have an address and a phone,” said Barnes, “a place to hang your hat at night. I can’t complain about this a bit.”

But although Barnes says he likes the Compassion House and the people there, he hopes to not be there too long.

“I’m working on building up my credit,” he said, “I’d like to own my own house again because for investment purposes, it’s much better to own than to rent, and I know I can do it.”

Price says she believes people would be surprised at how clean and welcoming the facility feels, and says the Compassion House is far from being “just a shelter”.

“It almost feels like a college dormatory,” she said, proudly, “The guys all really help each other and encourage each other, and in the mornings they all go off to work or class — it really does have that feeling of hope because they are there learning and growing and preparing for their futures.”

Realistically, not every man that leaves the Compassion House will go on to pursue their hopes and dreams, but some will.

In Sunday’s Becker County Record, some of the men of the Compassion House talk about their long, hard road to where they are now and where they one day hope to be.

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes, Perham and Wadena, all in Minnesota.

(218) 844-1466