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Local men's shelter needs your support to stay open

Many Cleveland County residents may have noticed a seemingly increase in the population of homeless men in and around Uptown Shelby over the last couple of years. Gary Leigh, Executive Director of Trailhead Resources noticed back in 2019 and sought to do something about it.

During the winter of 2020- 2021, Trailhead Resources teamed with another organization to open and operate a night shelter (7 pm - 7 am with "to go" meals) for homeless men. But as the current winter approached, it became evident that option of partnership wouldn't be viable for men this winter.

"It was really a last-minute realization, but our community jumped into action," said Gary. By mid-November, a facility had been secured through a partnership with White Investments that allows them to pay a minimal monthly rent.

"Washington Outreach Ministries in Waco is stepping up to help us with some food needs. There are several medical and mental health professionals that assist us with care and the securing and administering of proper medications to the men who join us." Gary continued.

Even all of that isn't going to be enough to keep the shelter open through the spring.

Gary stated, "We have the same bills as everyone else; power, trash, and though our volunteers are carrying us right now, we would love to be able to pay our selfless overnight staff."

As low temperatures hovered in the 30s for several weeks, one might wonder what someone would do if they were stuck living in the harsh elements. "This isn't just a cold weather problem, though. I'd really like my community to recognize the great need, and opportunity here to extend love to others."

Homeless men in Cleveland County have been displaced since the change of management of the local rescue mission resulted in the suspension of services to men. It was then that Trailhead Resources organized to offer much needed wraparound services to this vulnerable population.

Trailhead Resources is a nonprofit organization that has operated in Cleveland County since 2017 by addressing the holistic needs of homeless and underserved men. Executive Director Gary Leigh began working with the homeless population as a peer support counselor in 2017 and has continued to see a gap in access to services for those in the most need in our county. That need drove him to work diligently on closing the gap. Now, he and Robert Johnson, Operations Director are on a mission to see that gap closed forever and to help anyone navigate the road to independence and productive living.

Year 'round, Trailhead offers day programming, access to medical and mental health services, basic needs like food and clothing, as well as support groups for personal and spiritual development of each individual guest that comes through the doors of "The Common" on Warren Street in Shelby.

Naturally, this outreach sees an influx of participants as the temperatures get extreme; high or low. Gary and Robert see this as an opportunity to spread even more love!

"No one should be denied basic needs of food, clothes, shelter, medical attention and access to medicine. We were seeing so many men begin go thrive simply because they were attended to by a caring physician and had access to medications that manage their mental and physical health," says Robert.

"We began to see that maybe the fact they had someone "in their corner" was a huge boost to their self esteem. It's amazing what a healthy relationship with a person who genuinely cares can do for a person."

Trailhead Resources is welcoming between 18 and 20 men nightly at the facility at 212 Washington Street in Uptown Shelby. Guests have access to hot showers, three meals a day, transportation to and from day programming to keep the men off the street and occupied during the day, spiritual education, workforce development, and volunteer work.

The idea is to help these men become financially self sufficient and to reverse the generational cycles that have kept them from leading productive lives. A permanent solution, not just a Band-Aid® .

Gary went on to tell us that "Five of our guests have seen a doctor for the first time in over a decade since coming to Trailhead! We have access to behavioral health, medical health, addiction services, and all guests work one-on-one with a case worker to set and achieve goals to independent living."

Cleveland Community College has recently begun teaching "Financial Responsibility" to the men through a new partnership to address more of the educational and workforce needs of Trailhead Resources. Mental Health Association's ComPeer program teaches an art class at The Common once a month. Trailhead even engages the men in volunteer work and they help with a weekly food distribution to senior citizens and low income neighborhoods in the county.

"We can't keep the shelter open without some financial help from the community, though." Gary remarked that the board of directors is working to secure funding from grants but that it is tough being as young of an organization as Trailhead is, "A lot of foundations want to see a couple years of steady financial income that we just can't show them now. This all started out of a HUGE need being met so it was kind of backwards from how a businessperson may decide to open a restaurant, for instance."

This is where the community can help. The shelter needs, at the minimum, $2,000 per month to keep the doors open. To operate a desired outcome, that number is more like $4,000 per month.

There are also needs beyond financial: toiletries, laundry detergent, blankets, nonperishable and dairy food items, socks, clothes, farm development assistance, and volunteers to name a few.

If you or your church, civic organization, group of friends is interested in helping, please call Trailhead Resources at (704) 705-4545. You may visit them online at trailheadresources.com or email Gary Leigh (pronounced "Lay") at gsleigh@gmail.com.

Donations may be dropped off at the shelter at 212 Washington St. in Shelby any day of the week after 4 p.m. or to make arrangements for a drop off or financial contribution, call (704) 705-4545.

Trailhead Resources is a 501(c)(3) organization and any donation is tax deductible.

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