The Scott County Homeless Shelter is no more.
Not that the emergency shelter has gone anywhere. It’s still open and still housing an average of 15 to 20 men, women and children every day — 95 percent of them Scott Countians who have found themselves temporarily displaced.
It’s just that the shelter has rebranded itself after growing to become much more than a place of emergency and temporary lodging.
The Scott County Homeless Shelter is now Pinnacle Resource Center. It’s still a homeless shelter, but it’s also a food bank, a thrift store, and a general place of hope and advice for those who aren’t sure exactly where to turn.
Ray Perry, the Campbell County native who has guided the shelter as its executive director since the tragic death of his predecessor, Jerry Voiles, five years ago, said that the shelter has hit a “transitional hump,” and is poised for more growth.
“We feel like we have evolved so far past just being an emergency shelter,” Perry said. “We really felt like the term ‘Scott County Homeless Shelter’ was sort of restrictive.”
These days, the Pinnacle Resource Center offers rental assistance to families who need it, help set people up with permanent housing, operate a food pantry that serves about 100 people, have thrift items that are donated to people in crisis or sold to raise money for client services, and that’s just the start. Computers are being added for what Perry refers to as a “day program element” that will be open to the public. Anyone who needs a computer and internet access for educational or job-searching purposes will be granted use of the computers, and staff members can also assist with the resume-writing process. The shelter has also recently completed new restroom facilities, which can serve as emergency showers, and will have washers and dryers installed.
“If somebody has had their water cut off because they couldn’t pay their bill, they can come up here and do some laundry, take a shower, and while they’re waiting for their clothes to wash, we’ll sit here and help them find some resources to get their water turned back on,” Perry said.
That, in a nutshell, is what the old Scott County Homeless Shelter has become. That’s why it needed a new name.
‘The most successful’
Perry is a man of faith. When big changes loom, he said, “I go to my Bible.” So, when the homeless shelter needed a new name, Perry found it in his Bible study — the second temptation of Jesus, as portrayed in Matthew 4. As the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the temple, he “settith him on a pinnacle,” the verse says.
“As soon as I read that, the word pinnacle jumped out at me,” Perry said. “It means most successful or highest point, and we really are the most successful homeless program that’s around. Some shelters are able to get people out of the weather, but that’s all they do. They’re putting a bandage on a wound that’s infected and is never going to heal. We want to heal that wound.”
It boils down to one ambitious goal: “We want to be the most successful at addressing the needs of Scott County,” Perry said. “We want to sit down with people and just try to help them — help them develop a goal, help them develop plans. Even people who aren’t staying here with us, we want to be able to help them and be a resource hub for them, and also to be a resource hub for other agencies.”
Destroying a stigma
Perry and his staff at Pinnacle Resource Center have a vision for those who are battling homelessness. More than that, they have empathy. Anyone, Perry said, is “one paycheck away” from being homeless themselves.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to the word homelessness,” he said. “When you mention homeless, people get images of the old guy holding up the sign, doing drugs and stealing. We don’t want people to think like that. The majority of people we have here are people who make a very big mistake or people who have just lost their job.”
It is the latter that Perry points to as proof for why empathy is needed within the community.
“There are a lot of people in Scott County who are just one paycheck away from being homeless,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to own a home when you have two people trying to work minimum wage jobs.”
Pinnacle typically houses between 15 and 20 people. The shelter employs the use of family rooms, which allows it to keep families together. If a couple are married and have children, they are housed in the same unit.
“It has been a great experience,” Perry said. “It’s less stressful on parents, less stressful on kids, and we’ve seen a better success rate because of it.”
But the family rooms and dorm area — which is “downstairs” in the portion of the old Capital Hill School building that the homeless shelter originally occupied; its offices, food pantry and other services have since moved “upstairs” to the east end of the building — are just the start of it. On Tuesdays, the food pantry opens to allow families to “shop” for food for their families. And an average day finds the shelter’s staff fielding up to 10 phone calls from people needing help.
Not everyone qualifies to stay at the shelter. Sex offenders are not permitted residence, and the shelter has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. In fact, every client is drug-tested as soon as they arrive.
“If they don’t qualify to stay here, we’ll take them to another shelter, or refer them to drug rehab places,” Perry said. “Anybody who calls or comes by here gets something to improve their lives, even if it’s just a few phone numbers.”
“We’re growing. Big time,” Perry said. “We need some more support for the services we offer.”
That’s where the public can help Pinnacle Resource Center. The operation is funded by grant dollars through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. By being frugal and thinking outside the box, Perry and his staff make a little go a long way. But they can always use more.
“We have some churches and people like that who donate to us on a regular basis, and it definitely helps,” Perry said. “Mostly, the private donations keep the food in the food pantry and stuff like that. I don’t get a raise when someone makes a donation. Our clients get better food or a nice pair of shoes.”
Pinnacle will not turn away donations of any kind — whether it be “time, money, effort, energy, materials, clothes . . . anything,” Perry said. Cash donations help, but “volunteering time, to me, is just as good as putting money in the bank,” he added.
The operation is currently a four-person team. But “it’s a show that needs eight to 10 people easy,” Perry said. That can only happen with more funding.
In the meantime, part of the reason the shelter remodeled and moved its offices was to add bunk space. When a waiting list was started for the shelter’s family room, it was time to add a second. There are also dorm rooms for men and women, with two private rooms on the women’s floor for mothers with children. Eventually, more sleeping pods will be added.
“It’s a little stressful at times, but we’re keeping up with our work load,” Perry said.
Eyeing the future
As Pinnacle Resource Center looks towards the future, it is currently working to obtain ownership of the old school building from Scott County. The county currently provides use of the structure and pays its utilities, but Perry said there is a need for the operation to become independent.
“Scott County government has been so wonderful in helping us,” he said. “I cannot speak more highly of the support that we’ve gotten from the government.” But, he added, “we’re in a position where we feel like we’re a growing organization and in order for us to teach independence, we need to be independent ourselves.”
By becoming truly self-sufficient, Pinnacle can open the door for substantial more grant dollars that can help it achieve the growth it desires.
“There comes this middle ground where you can’t grow any more until you’re self-sufficient,” Perry said. “We’ve reached that point. Once we get past that, we’ll be able to reach out to help more people. That’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
This is the January 2018 installment of Profiles of a Three-Star Community, presented by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series.