Fighting poverty one city at a time

Though it is Alabama’s most affluent county, Shelby County is not without poverty.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 12,000 people (6.9 percent of the county’s population) live below the poverty line – a figure Werner Beiersdoerfer and Ken Flowers find bothersome.

Beiersdoerfer and Flowers are trustees of the Sanctuary Trust for Shelby County, a Calera-based non-profit ministry that provides transitional housing for disadvantaged families. Both men hope the Sanctuary Trust will serve as a template for other Alabama counties to follow in the fight against poverty.

“We discovered there’s a desperate need for transitional housing in this county,” Flowers said. “There is a significant underclass in Shelby County that just don’t have the resources to make it on their own.”

Beiersdoerfer added, “There shouldn’t be anybody sleeping in a car, sleeping on a bench or going from house to house, and it’s the community’s job to see to that.”

A Shelby County businessman who wishes to remain anonymous founded Sanctuary Trust in the early 1990s after reading a newspaper article about homelessness in Shelby County. He shared his vision with area business and church leaders of building homes in the county’s largest cities, and last April, a single father and his two young daughters moved into the first Sanctuary Trust home in Montevallo.

Beiersdoerfer said families are referred to Sanctuary Trust by churches and organizations like Shelby Baptist Association and Shelby Emergency Assistance. The families live in a furnished home for six months, and adult participants must agree to work full-time.

Church partners are assigned to each family to help define spiritual, financial and self-improvement goals, offering Bible study and classes on marriage enrichment, parenting, budgeting, debt recovery and money saving. Church partners are also responsible for maintaining the home, and providing clothing, food and other necessities to the families. Beiersdoerfer emphasized church partners have no financial obligation. The Sanctuary Trust foots all the bills.

“The goal is for the families to make the transition into their own home or apartment by the end of the six-month agreement,” Flowers said.

Dogwood Grove Baptist Church in Montevallo has played host to two families through Sanctuary Trust. Pastor Todd Burr said his church remains in contact with the single father and his two daughters, who completed their six-month stay last October. The family now lives in Montevallo.

Dogwood Grove is now hosting a single mother and her five children.

Burr said the church helps families with everything from homework sessions to cooking lessons.

“This is an awesome opportunity to manage a home, oversee it and minister those families in there,” Burr said. “We’re very blessed to participate in the program because this is very expensive to do and not a lot of churches have the resources to do it.”

Mark Davis, pastor of Christian Life Fellowship Church in Calera, learned of Sanctuary Trust at a pastors’ meeting last year. He said families are required to join a church during their six-month stay, but they don’t have to join their host church.

Davis agrees the Sanctuary Trust gives churches the opportunity to better serve parishioners and neighbors.

“The hope for me as a pastor is that families develop a network of relationships with the churches that lasts,” he said.

Davis said Christian Life Fellowship Church will host a family after Sanctuary Trust builds homes in Calera. Sanctuary Trust has purchased five lots in Calera and is building two duplexes in Montevallo, Beiersdoerfer said. The duplexes are expected to be move-in ready by June 1.