Dr. Umiko Jones knows what it’s like to find yourself in some tough life circumstances that only a helping hand can get you out of. After a divorce, he was in a new state with no money and no family and children who depended on him.
“I remember at one point going on Priceline, renting a room for a week, my children sleeping in one bed and me being awake at night crying because my children are having to sleep in a hotel,” Umiko says. “Had it not been for people who were willing to help me, my children and I would have been in some very, very dire straits.”
Today, Umiko is the director of Gallatin’s nonprofit homeless shelter Good Neighbor Mission. Founded in 1983, the organization provides a safe refuge for Sumner County families who find themselves in dire straits too – men, women and children. Other rescue missions will separate families, keeping men and women apart.
“The homeless problem in Sumner County is very real, it is just hidden,” he says. “And we are the only ones who serve families, and we keep families together. Whereas a family would go to the Rescue Mission in Nashville, the fathers have to be taken away from the rest of the family.”
Founder, Randy Pryor, developed the mission to help the working poor of Sumner. He saw the need for a homeless shelter that provided a safe refuge for men, women and children all together so families already in crisis weren’t being split up. Over the years the mission has evolved to include transitional housing and education.
“Part of my passion with this is I was once in the position that some of our clients are now in,” Umiko says. “People sometimes need a hand. They need help, and that’s what we aim to do at Good Neighbor, is to assist these families with children. No child asks to be born, but they are subjected to environments and conditions that have nothing to do with them at all. So we want to try to do our part to help children develop in areas and be able to grow up in homes, not in our shelters.”
Good Neighbor Mission is supported by the United Way of Sumner County and funded under an agreement with the state of Tennessee. They also provide referrals and financial assistance in emergencies, and to help loss of utilities.
In Sumner County, 20 percent of households earn less than $14,997 and 9 percent live below the poverty level. And the cost of housing is on the rise.
“There is an ongoing and growing need for affordable housing in Sumner County, particularly if you have a family and you’re concerned about where you want to raise your children, it becomes very difficult to secure housing,” Umiko says. “If there is some sort of economic hardship for persons who may be living from check to check – and most people I know live check to check – it just takes one or two events to throw you completely off.”
Today, the mission operates the Edna Guild Emergency Shelter and two transitional units and continues to stay committed to its purpose of helping solve the homeless problem in Sumner County. And most recently they purchased a home in Portland to serve even more families.
“We are always in need of additional locations,” Umiko says. “Our shelters don’t look like a shelter. We have a duplex in Gallatin and we just purchased a home in Portland we’re renovating now. It’s a house, so it provides stability and some sense of normalcy to these families.”
Good Neighbor’s Services
The Shelter Program helps working poor families with children for up to eight weeks. This time is used to assist families in reaching financial goals that will lead to decent, affordable housing of their own.
The Rapid Rehousing Program is for individuals or families who are literally homeless. A pending eviction or threat of homelessness does not qualify someone for this program. If a person or family qualifies, Good Neighbor may assist with rental and utility deposits for a home or apartment.
The Prevention Program is used to prevent a family or individual from losing their home, or utilities. There are strict income qualifications, and the applicant must have an eviction notice, or utility cutoff notice.
The Good Neighbor Mission grant-funded organization relies heavily on the support of churches, businesses, civic organizations and individuals. People can donate to the mission at goodneighbormission.com, and there are some volunteer opportunities, including lawn maintenance and office help.