Winston-Salem program aims to help homeless get off streets

by Keith Barber

For the past 42 years, the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission has offered a nourishing meal, a hot shower, clean clothes and a warm bed for men who are at the end of their rope. By virtue of the type of services offered, the role of the rescue mission has always been temporary in nature. But last year, the nonprofit opened the doors to its New Life Center facility on Trade Street, which in turn, opened the door to a rare opportunity to tackle chronic homelessness in Winston-Salem.

In October, six clients of the Rescue Mission graduated from the inaugural class of its Transformers program. Terry McIntyre was one of those clients. Addicted to crack cocaine for 31 years, the 61-year-old McIntyre said Transformers gave him the structure and roadmap to the better life he so desperately needed. After entering the program 14 months ago, McIntyre quickly realized that rebuilding relationships with his family offered the key to overcoming his powerful addiction. This Thanksgiving, McIntyre had the opportunity to celebrate with his seven children for the first time in recent memory.

“Right now, I’m seeing that the Lord blessed my family to come together,” he said.

Davy Kinley, a Transformers graduate, said the loss of his father in 1999 and the subsequent end of his marriage led to a downward spiral of alcoholism and homelessness that eventually brought him to the Rescue Mission. The structure and discipline imposed by the Transformers program, along with its emphasis on education, has helped him see that life holds promise once again. Kinley, 53, also said his affiliation with Life Quest Church in Clemmons has given him a much-needed source of support as he transitions to a better life. Kinley admitted his alcohol addiction is a daily struggle, but he’s focused on the future now due to the new relationships he’s developed through the program.

Program director Greg Cooney said the goal of the program is to help its clients overcome the shame of alcohol and drug addiction by changing an unhealthy way of thinking.

“We continually tell them that there’s no shame in getting help,” Cooney said. “There’s no shame in bettering yourself. The shame is in when you fall down you stay down.”

Helping clients pick themselves up and rediscover their potential is the ultimate goal of Transformers, said Don Parsons, executive director of the Rescue Mission.

“We transform through a lot of different avenues through spiritual, emotional and physical,” Parsons said. “We transform these men from what they were, which was in most cases a drug and alcohol addiction situation. We transform them into a whole productive citizen with church affiliation, with family cooperation, with work hopefully and eventually with their own apartment or own house. That’s how you’re going to end homelessness.”

Of the eight men enrolled in the inaugural Transformers class, six of them graduated — a success rate of 75 percent. Mike Foster, the Rescue Mission’s director of development, said the national average for similar programs is 20 percent. Of those six graduates, two are working, two are pursuing work while getting their graduate equivalency degree and one graduate is enrolled in a certified nursing assistant course through Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina.

Terry said he is working toward getting his GED and plans on moving into an apartment in January. Cooney said the life skills Terry and his fellow graduates developed in the Transformers program will prepare them for the obstacles they will surely face. Parsons said ensuring success beyond the New Life Center is a focal point of the program. Transformers clients take a financial class and receive counseling in how to not just apply for a job but hold on to the job to achieve and sustain independence.

Claude Pinnix, a member of the inaugural Transformers class, credited the program with allowing him to look within himself to find out the reason for his depression and alcoholism. In the past, the 52-year-old Pinnix said the death of his parents led to bouts of severe depression around the holidays. His depression led to alcohol abuse. But now, with the help of Transformers, Pinnix said he’s learned how to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy way.

“In the past six months, I’ve kind of worked that out and put it behind me,” he said. “That’s one of those things that was in the back of my head and I didn’t really realize that was keeping me from going forward. It didn’t change anything. It’s just kept me from getting that chip on my shoulder and becoming discouraged.”

Pinnix said once he recovers from shoulder surgery, he plans on pursuing a career in the printing business and getting an apartment where he can spend more time with his 26-year-old daughter.

The Rescue Mission has eight clients in its current Transformers class, and Parsons said he hopes to see the program expand annually.

“We just need to get the word out,” he said. “My goal is for there to be a waiting list for men to come into this program, and I think that will happen.”

Currently, the Rescue Mission has a long waiting list for its shelter, which houses 93 men. Foster said staff members are seeing a lot of new faces this year requesting a bed or services from the mission’s clothing closet, food pantry and its medical and dental clinic.

Foster noted that support from local foundations has decreased significantly from previous years because of the recession. Also, foundations want to invest in results-oriented programs, which is what ultimately led to the development of the Transformers program.

In collaboration with the Winston- Salem/Forsyth County 10-year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, Transformers was created so that the end results of the mission’s efforts would become clearly evident.

“We’re not trying just to house homeless people,” Parsons said. “We’re trying to end homelessness by giving them the tools they need to be successful.”

DavyKinley (right) participates in a Christmas ornament workshop hosted byWinston-Salem State University graduate students in occupationaltherapy at the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission on Dec. 10. Kinley is oneof six graduates of the Rescue Mission’s Transformers program, which isaimed at ending homelessness. (photo by Keith T. Barber)