By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
“I'm very thankful that I have a shelter over my head,” Jenny Mounts said, quickly tidying up her kitchen counter. “I was knocked down, but I'm getting helped back up.”
Mounts is a single mother working to raise her 5-year-old son. She said she and the boy’s father used to split the bills at her former home. But, that all changed when the father was arrested after he was involved in a DUI accident.
Unable to pay her bills, Mounts said she had nowhere to go. Then she found the New Liberty Family Shelter on East Main Street.
New Liberty has been serving the Richmond community for nearly 100 years, according to the Rev. Robert Blythe, chairman of the liaison committee for the New Liberty Baptist Sunday School Convention Inc., which now runs the shelter.
“The first thing it was used for was housing for elderly African Americans,” Blythe said. “When I was young, we referred to it as the 'old folks home.’”
Blythe said New Liberty housed the elderly for a long time, but when the city's building codes were eventually updated, the old building was deemed unusable as a home for the elderly because of the difficulty some may have in reaching its second floor.
About 1990, the house was partially renovated by a farmer in Clark County and used to house migrant workers.
When the workers eventually left the area, the building was purchased by the New Liberty Baptist group, working with the Kentucky River Foothills Development Council. The partnership applied for and received grants which they used to build a second building behind the first, giving the shelter six apartments.
Since then, Kentucky River Foothills has separated from the shelter, but remains supportive of it. Vicki Jozefowicz, the council’s executive director, said the move was made for strategic purposes, so both organizations could apply for grants separately and continue their work in the area.
The apartments are now used to house families that have fallen on hard times. Families may stay up to six months, and are given other assistance by the Sunday school convention to get back on their feet.
Blythe said all six apartments are full at any given time, and there’s a waiting list of about 20 families to be considered when a family moves out. That doesn’t count individuals looking for a place to stay or those seeking shelter for only one or two nights. They are directed to the Salvation Army, which operates a shelter mostly for individuals.
The New Liberty organization is planning for the future by preparing to launch a fundraising campaign, Blythe said. In the long term, the pastor of First Baptist Church on Francis Street, who also serves on the Richmond City Commission, said he’d like to see the original building replaced with a new one that better meets the city’s code requirements. And, adding a third building could be a goal. However, even maintaining the current shelter and staff can be a challenge, he said.
According to a brochure for the shelter, just the monthly costs to cover utilities, two employees and maintenance is about $5,500. And that doesn’t account for unexpected expenses. Kayla Johnson, a resident at the shelter, said her air conditioner stopped working and needed to be fixed.
The shelter does receive some assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District, toured the shelter Aug. 24. Barr praised the volunteers who work at the shelter and those who donate food and money, saying he was glad to see it receives community support.
But despite the challenges faced by the shelter, the residents in the apartments speak highly of their experiences there.
“Things happen for a reason,” Mounts said. “And I have a family now, all the people living and working here.”
(Editor’s Note: The New Liberty Family Shelter, which is named for the organization that operates it, should not be confused with the nearby Liberty Place Recover Center for Women. Both have affiliation with Kentucky River Foothills Development Council.)
Seth Littrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6623.