I’m CEO Bruce Spangler of Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC), a CSPC local missions partner. Here’s how I’m living deeply.
I’m usually one of the first ones in. I like getting in early to have kind of a quiet time to get my day started. Recently one day as I was walking into work, a gentleman started waving somewhat frantically. I naturally assumed there was an emergency or a crisis. He made his way toward me -I probably met him about halfway- and said, ‘You have saved my life.’ And to be honest, I knew this gentleman only by face, because we serve a good number of folks. I said, ‘Goodness! Well I’m glad you’re doing well, but tell me a little more.’ Turns out he’d had an addiction disorder and some resulting estrangement from his family. So he went on to talk about the service he received from a VMC housing case manager, and he was about to sign a lease at Minvilla Manor, the historic apartment homes we run. They’re right across the street from VMC downtown. ‘Literally that is saving my life,’ this man said. It’s easy to take housing for granted. At VMC, it’s our belief that lack of housing is a health crisis- both physical and mental. It’s a crisis of food security as well. And of course, it coincides with the issue of poverty. Minvilla Manor is what we call permanent supportive housing- the people who live there are signing leases, pay a level of rent they’re able to afford, and can stay as long as they want. Permanent supportive housing is based on a housing-first approach: the belief that you must have a safe and secure environment before you begin to deal with major life issues- physical, mental or whatever. Minvilla is designed for people experiencing homelessness in a chronic state, which presupposes a disability that’s led to that long duration of homelessness. Our residents more than likely would die on the street without this type of intervention. This approach is a really, really successful model for nine out of 10 individuals. Both national and international studies have proven 75 to 95 percent of folks who have presenting mental health issues can be quite successful in a permanent supportive housing opportunity.
We’ve certainly seen God bring life change through Minvilla Manor. About 20 percent of our 57 lessees are original tenants, going back to 2010. A handful of those lived with us in our previous apartments on Gay Street. Every resident has a case manager. In total, three case managers are embedded there to help residents work on all of life’s domains- anything from income to mental health. It’s such an effective model, we’re doing another one. We’re building 48 units in East Knoxville called Caswell Manor, which we hope to open in September. Another crucial aspect of Minvilla is that it helps residents build a connection with the community. For an illustration, I like to tell the story of Cecil, a Minvilla Manor resident who’s now deceased but lived with us for about 14 years between our two facilities. He became a member of the Church of the Ascension, a local Episcopal church. When I met him 20 years ago, you could barely get a grunt out of Cecil. But then he really plugged into this church. He did everything and was such a beloved participant that when he died, they honored his remains with a spot in the columbarium there at the church. Often folks like Cecil, prior to getting housing, are sort of seen but invisible- they die a social death. So during his memorial service, we celebrated the kind of resurrected life Cecil experienced after housing; most importantly, connecting with this faith community. And now he participates in the full resurrection with Jesus Christ. It’s one of the wonderful VMC stories I’ll never forget. I’ve always understood my calling to be with the disenfranchised and the impoverished; always been interested in creating a space for radical hospitality. It all goes back to my mom and dad, who came from very humble beginnings. They were true Appalachian, from the foothills of the mountains; never quite felt like they belonged, and so I always want to create a place where people feel they belong. I’ll share how you can pray for VMC and me in a couple days.