Sojourner’s Journey to open Monroe County’s first men’s home
Sojourner’s Journey is a non-profit, non-denominational organization committed to helping those who are homeless and struggling with substance abuse and mental illness in the Monroe County area. The organization provides resources, education and developmental opportunities to empower men and women to become active, vital assets to the community.
The organization will be hosting an open house this week to celebrate the long-awaited opening of a new men’s house and the newly renovated house for women.
This transition has been a long-time dream for President and Founder Katie Bennett as Sojourner’s Journey had a highly successful resident program, providing housing for women and their children.
That dream of opening a men’s house in Monroe County started to become a reality when Spencer Cleary came to work with Sojourner’s Journey after working with the Monroe County Jail Ministry for the past few years.
After Bennett had purchased an old church in Sparta to renovate for the residential program, she was contacted by Cleary who was looking to open a men’s home in Sparta as there were none to speak of.
A plan to renovate the church into a women’s home and convert the former location into a men’s home was formed and together Bennett and Cleary began raising funds.
Renovations on the church began in early June and were completed earlier this month with help from an army of volunteers and local business owners.
Before the renovation, it was just a big open sanctuary upstairs and now it serves as a kitchen and a large living area. Downstairs, in what were previously Sunday School rooms, has been renovated into bedrooms and bathrooms.
The property also has a private apartment, which Bennett intends to rent out to residents after they have worked through the program.
As the women are settling into the new women’s home, Cleary will begin moving new residents into the men’s house this week. Cleary has been getting calls almost every day from applicants seeking accommodations.
“This place will be hustling and bustling pretty soon,” he said, adding that the men’s home typically houses three men, but has a maximum capacity of five. “With the winter months coming, we’re considering bunk beds. We don’t want to do that, but if there is a big enough need through the winter we might have to.”
Sojourner’s Journey will select residents based on the greater needs of each individual. Those who have no other options for a place of residence will be considered a higher priority.
Sojourner’s Journey is not a treatment facility. The program is intended to help men and women who are homeless and need extra support in re-establishing a full-fledged life.
“We walk through life with them,” Cleary said. “A lot of times, instead of people telling them what they did wrong, these individuals just need someone to listen, hear them out and guide them through.”
Cleary has a passion for helping men who have been incarcerated and are reentering their communities, just as he once did himself. He and Bennett are very proud to be opening Monroe County’s first men’s home.
“I think there seems to be a higher level of fear around helping men because of their physical strength. It’s not that I didn’t want to help men, I just felt that wasn’t appropriate for me as a woman to put myself in that situation,” Bennett said. “The reality is that it has to be men rising up to help men and I’m really proud that our community is doing that.”
The two homes will function similar to one another, with varied differences. Cleary will spend the majority of his time at the men’s home offering support where he can while Bennett’s mother-in-law, Judy Bennett, will oversee the day-to-day operations at the women’s home.
The celebration will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Jim’s House for Men located in downtown Sparta at 111 ½ S. Water St. Apt. D.
Both the men’s house and Debra Jean’s House for Women, located at 318 N. Rusk Ave., will be available to the public for tours until 6 p.m. to see what Sojourner’s Journey does firsthand.