It was a cold day in early December when Covenant Church pastor Harold Bare received an urgent e-mail from COMPASS. The troubled shelter group had leased the Hope Community Center in the 10th and Page neighborhood from Bare’s nonprofit, the Hope Foundation, during the month of November. But they had yet to pay rent and now they never would. COMPASS was flat broke and tired of fighting with the city over zoning. They were dead.
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Yet, there was obviously a need. The two-building complex had been an evening shelter for a full month, and on the day of COMPASS’ withdrawal, some 30 men, women and children were expecting a place to huddle. Worse, it was starting to snow. There were scant hours until the freezing night.
“At 5 o’clock, he calls me and says, ‘Josh, be there at 7,’” says Pastor Bare’s 28-year-old son. He had been back from school only a few months and was living at home with his parents. After a construction job petered out, he was also out of work. So he was willing to head over to Hope, where he met up with Erik Speer, a COMPASS employee. “Erik stayed that first night and then came and checked in on me for about 30 minutes the next night, and that was it,” Josh says. “I’ve been running the shelter ever since.”
“We got caught with our britches on fire and had to run,” says his father Harold, immediately regretting the coarseness of his language. “We didn’t have time to go sit down and figure out what our strategy was. I had to immediately—and for several weeks—put every available minute into calling people and saying, ‘Look, you’ve got to help us.’” Through private donations Hope was able to pay for 50 new blue cots so the shelter residents didn’t have to sleep on the floor anymore. His congregation and some neighboring churches pitched in with meals.
Josh spends five nights a week with Hope’s homeless.
The exercise in emergency relief was hectic and jarring, but not out of order. Covenant Church on Rio Road had bought the site on 11th Street NW in the fall of 1998 to put a permanent footprint in Charlottesville’s inner city. “We found this building and said, ‘Let’s buy it,’” says Pastor Bare of the site that was previously a church, telephone company, and a furniture store. So Covenant remodeled it and built an adjoining building. “The Hope Center is designated for social and economic lift,” the pastor says. Hope Community Center officially opened in 1999 (and was later transferred to a nonprofit now presided over by Bare) on a street and in a neighborhood known for crack distribution, among other violations of the law. A police substation occupies part of Hope’s main building for that very reason. “That’s why we’re there in a very hard community,” Harold says, “where a lot of people are being taken advantage of.”
Over the years, the Community Center has housed after-school programs, church meetings on Sunday, and Tai Chi classes at night (among numerous uses), but not until November did it serve as a shelter for the homeless. And not until February did the center violate city zoning when it was cited for running a shelter in a residential neighborhood after someone anonymously complained. “Cease and desist,” they were told by the city Zoning Inspector. Then they were graciously given a reprieve until this month’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. There, on April 17, the board ruled Hope can continue to remain open as they apply for a zoning amendment, a process that can take up to four months.
The hearing itself was an emotional affair. Following the Bares’ initial testimony before the board, numerous homeless told stories of how the Hope Community Center had saved their lives.
“If you close Hope you will really hurt people,” said Steve Biddle, who works a graveyard shift for CVS, but uses Hope mainly for its shower so he doesn’t stink at work.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” said Deborah Taliaferro, who had kicked a 15-year heroin addiction and has bounced around from shelter to shelter. “Oh my god, I’ve never seen so much love in a human being,” she said of Josh Bare. “He sleeps with us, watching over us.”
To show their gratitude, Hope’s homeless help keep the center clean.
“I don’t think anyone here would argue with the noble mission of Hope,” the BZA’s Jon Fink said. Perhaps Pastor Bare’s words were still ringing in his ears. “I don’t want an embarrassing moment for the city,” the pastor had told them only minutes earlier.
Apparently, neither did the BZA as they reached a compromise, supporting the city zoning inspector’s ruling while requesting that Read Brodhead defer any action until the Bares can go through the lengthy process of applying for a zoning text amendment. “I’m not going to kick homeless people out tonight,” Brodhead said.
This leave the Bares 30 days to file the first piece of paperwork with the city planning commission, which means the shelter will remain open for at least a few more months.
Covenant Church started in 1952 in a Downtown storefront with only 11 people. By the early 1980s, the multiethnic congregation was in need of new digs and moved out to a newly constructed complex on Rio Road around the same time that they got a new pastor with a sociology degree from UVA.
One of the first things Pastor Bare did was to make a connection with Charlottesville’s inner city, renting a section of Tonsler Park from the city for more than 10 years. “Every week we would bus children from the projects in, clothe, feed, nurture and counsel them,” he says.
Born in the mountains of North Carolina, Harold is the son of a preacher. “I had been born into a family viewing the world from a Pentecostal perspective,” he writes in They Call Me Pentecostal, one of his several books. “It was a comfortable and warm world espousing all the virtues that are worthy of man in his finest form.”
The words of the father could easily be those of his youngest son. Born in Belmont in 1980, Josh Bare graduated from Covenant High School in 1998 and left to attend Lee University, a small, Pentecostal college in Cleveland, Tennessee, that offered him a soccer scholarship.
Covenant and neighboring churches supply the food Hope’s residents eat. It ranges from broiled chicken to Sloppy Joes.
“All I wanted to be was a professional soccer player,” he says. He was an All American in 1999, but then blew his knee out the next year and his world started to unravel. With his soccer career over like that, he settled on earning his M.B.A. at Regent University, Pat Robertson’s school in Norfolk. Then personal crises led to Josh taking time off from school five credits short of his master’s. Two months later, he was anxiously sleeping at Hope, hundreds of miles away from a baby girl he only sees once a month (and who lives with her mother and his former fiance in another state). Instead of watching over his newborn, he was supervising abandoned adults.
“When I first got there, safety was an issue,” he says of those first few weeks at the center. “I was worried, even though nothing ever happened.”
Not that he really had time to worry. Josh was practically living at Hope at that point, unable to sleep and staying up most of the night, only to drive back to his parents’ house in Greene and crash during the day. Then he would wake up, and head back into town, where he had to be at the center by no later than 8pm when the bus would start to roll in.
“I think I worked like eight or nine days in a row during Christmas,” Josh says. So the business major asked his dad for a little compensation and received only a pittance for a 13-hour shift, a minimum of five days a week.
It takes a Village
Spending all that time at the Center also gave Josh the opportunity to get to know the homeless of Charlottesville. Some were from the other shelters and merely appreciated the change in scenery. Others had been turned away for breaking rules like drinking or missing appointments with counselors. Some were crazy—Josh says a number of his people have case managers at Region Ten, a local agency that treats mental illness. Then there’s the older lady who says she is staying there because the military wants her to. A month after he took over, Josh procured nylon bags so his “clients” could leave their stuff at Hope when they went out into the world every day. The lady who insisted she was there for the military carried around three bags that must have weighed 40 pounds each, but Josh worked on her. “I had to tell her the military wanted to leave her stuff behind,” he says.
Doing things like procuring bags was only a precursor, as father and son Bare tried to make their investment of time and money worthwhile. “We decided to do more than just a cot and some food,” says Josh. His mother, Laila, is on the board of Piedmont Virginia Community College, and by mid-January Hope had nine of its people attending classes there. They also got together a computer class in February and regularly had people over from Covenant church to teach the Bible and just talk.
“I’ve been in the 10th and Page neighborhood doing youth mentoring since I was 14 or 15,” says Josh, his short red hair matted down with gel. “We’d roll out some music and hot dogs. We would do dramas, and I would jump on a platform and speak. It was fun.” At 28, he is easily the most youthful in the community of people that serve the area’s homeless. The fourth-generation Pentecostal (his mother’s father was also a pastor) exudes confidence and compassion, an odd combination that translates into a calm resolve that Hope’s residents feed off.
“I try to act as the hands and feet of God,” Josh says, putting it another way. Gradually, he began to see a change in his new friends. Just knowing their names seemed to make a big difference to people starving for some sort of connection, by and large rootless except for the generosity of Hope. More than anything, the initial fear was replaced by a certain degree of trust, “because they see how much we care about them,” says Josh.
That’s when “Hope Village” was born. “They started calling it that,” says Josh. A communal spirit fell over Hope, it seemed, as the residents started to help out, cleaning the bathrooms and putting up the dishes. Hope had become more than just a shelter. It was a place to rely on for succor.
“Men have come up to me crying, ‘Josh, I need you to pray for me,’” he says. “That’s a big thing for a man on the street to come up to me and ask for prayer. Not only that, guys who tell me they love me, guys who give me hugs in front of other men, men who have told me I’m safe there, that they will protect me.”
Then, just a few weeks ago, Hope held a resume improvement day at the Center and got more than 50 homeless people ready for a job fair the next day at PVCC. On March 25, a white Covenant bus arrived at 9:15am in a parking lot on Ridge Street where a crowd of 20 or more waited around, resumes in hand. The sun was out and hopes were up. “I feel good about today,” said one passenger to Josh. “I feel good about it, too,” he responded, his own resume in hand. Ever since Hope was cited by the city, the business major has been looking for a day job himself.
Two hours later, Josh was guiding the group of mostly men around to various employers in PVCC’s packed main hall. “How’s the job search going?” he said to one homeless man whose eyes were dim, his red greasy hair loosely covered with a red bandana. A white tennis shoe covered one foot but the other was wrapped in an old ankle brace. Only a dingy tube sock covered his toes. In his hand he held a resume that listed two startling prior jobs: nuclear decontamination and off-shore drilling! Unsurprisingly, he had failed to find any offers yet. “We’ve got to get you some work,” Josh told him.
“I’d even do dishwashing at this point,” the man shot back, and Josh grabbed him by his sleeve and headed over to a nearby table where they were looking for just that, as a matter of fact. Now, the former power plant employee may decontaminate plates for a living.
“When we got back, they were so excited,” says Josh. “You could have cried just for the emotion that they had about somebody listening to them, and getting them jobs.” Two of his keep were immediately hired (even if Josh wasn’t), one as kitchen help, the other for the city in maintenance work.
“We hired two of them here at Covenant two days a week,” says Pastor Bare. Those guys, Bruce and Leo, are familiar faces on the homeless scene. When they are not over on Rio cleaning Covenant Church, they can usually be found doing something at Hope. Maybe they’re mowing the yard or picking up discarded trash, all part of Hope’s effort to appease a city that has sought to quell them.
And in the end…
“We’ve been doing something we thought the city would approbate and approve,” says Harold, a tall, commanding man with a wayward, lucid look in his eyes and a childlike smile that he uses to punctuate his phrases. He is also the author of more than 1,500 articles, he says, and several books, including Hell Is War, which begins with an allegorical poem detailing the literal war between Lucifer and Jehovah and their respective minions. More revealing is the 1993 book, They Call Me Pentecostal, an explication of his belief system. “Because of the doctrine of the Rapture, Pentecostals intrinsically communicate a sense of urgency,” he writes on page 75. “Missionary efforts are predicated in a firm commitment that the Rapture is imminent. Every effort must be made to share the gospel of Christ with every man and woman on earth.”
“We believe we are Christians driven with a passion to try and touch our world, yes,” Pastor Bare admits, “but if you put your preaching ahead of your caring, they’re not going to listen to the preaching.”
For that reason, Bare says that conversion or even attendance at church is not required to receive refuge under Hope’s wings. “We need to minister to them through caring and love and building trust and relationship,” he says. “If a man’s hungry he doesn’t want a long sermon.”
As a result, there is very little actual evangelizing at Hope, except if you count the prayer Josh says before every dinner. “I use that time to thank Him for the Center, what Pastor Bare is doing and the board in providing the shelter, for the families that are taking the time to provide the meal, and God give us strength and peace tonight so that people will be able to get up the next day and go find a job,” Josh says. “That’s essentially my prayer every night.” As the food simmers, men bow their heads until Josh finishes with an “Amen.” With that, he drifts behind a fold-up table and begins to spoon out whatever is for dinner. Donated by churches and individuals, it could be anything from broiled chicken to Sloppy Joes. When it is finished and the place cleaned, the women drift over to their part of the center while many of the men go into the gymnasium where their cots are lined in rows.
“Guys have their spot in the gym,” says Josh. “They want to have the same space. They’re used to it; they’ve been sleeping there for four months.”
Others sit in the glass-walled foyer, watching TV, talking or even drawing. Outside, men smoke or just lean against the wall. All the while, Josh is in constant motion, his attention grabbed by various residents wanting a moment of his time. Maybe they need him to sign a form or just to give them a bar of soap.
“Josh is a good man,” says someone who goes by “New Orleans” and is smoking a cigarette. “He makes sure we eat and shower.” As Josh goes to look for clean towels, Orleans tells the story of how he came here a few weeks ago from Memphis, where he and his girlfriend landed after their home in the Ninth Ward was destroyed when the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina. When they came to Charlottesville, where his mother lives, he first tried the Salvation Army on Ridge Street and was told to come back in a week, but when he did they were still full. Try the Hope Center, he was told. Just meet the bus at Nolan’s convenience store across the street at 7:30.
When PACEM, the winter-only roving shelter, closed its doors in mid-March, Hope saw its numbers jump and had to initially turn away four or five for a few nights. Per fire code, the shelter is only permitted 42 occupants. As a result, it took Orleans and his girl three tries, but they finally made it onto the good bus and have been staying at Hope Village for almost two weeks now. “This place is a blessing,” he says. His girl has applied for a job at UVA and he is going over to a drugstore soon to talk about work. One of their managers happens to be staying at Hope, too, and told him about some openings.
Along with the 40 others at Hope, Orleans is one of the 75-100 people that have come through the Center’s doors since December, which is still only a section of the area’s homeless. According to figures recently released by the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, there were 292 homeless people on January 30 staying in shelters and with other social service agencies in Charlottesville. Forty-five of those were at Hope that January day.
“If we could move the dialogue in the community to a higher level,” says Pastor Bare, his baritone dropping as his eyes glare. “What is the psychology and nature of these people and are they meritorious and hopeful for redemption? Do we believe that there are those there who can be reconstituted into society, can be gotten into jobs, that can be given a little chance? Do we believe that it would be in the best interest of you and me for the ones that aren’t to actually have a place to go pee, a restroom instead of a bush? Do we believe that?”