Couple finds mission close to home

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some missionaries go deep into Africa to fulfill their mission, but there are some that find their calling in places closer to home.

Dr. Robert Hayes and his wife, Ellen, are among the latter group, and they are not alone. There are others who have joined the Hayes in giving their support to the Pensacola Waterfront Mission.

“We had heard about them several years ago,” Dr. Hayes said. “A few years back, Ellen and I decided to go down there and offer our help to serve Thanksgiving dinner. We realized the need and decided to help.”

The two of them have been joined, in other ways, by others in Brewton.

“There is a need for a dentist, and Dr. James Deatherage of Brewton agreed to give of his time and expertise to help,” said Hayes. “The mission has to stay away from having hard drugs, but there is a need for acetaminophen and Danny Cottrell is helping out by furnishing boxes of the pain reliever.”

The one trip to the mission was all it took for the Hayeses to decide to do what they could for the men, women and children who are homeless on the streets of Pensacola. Dr. Hayes said most people think there are only men who come to the shelter, but that is not the case. At the present time, there are 747 children in Escambia County, Fla., who are listed as homeless. Some of them have been taken in by relatives, but certainly not all of them.

Not only are the statistics staggering on children, but other figures show how desperate the situation is. There is an average of 150 people who are fed everyday at the mission and the estimate is there are around 2,400 homeless in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Recently a census was taken of those who are living under bridges throughout the county and that estimate was around 200 people who are making their homes under bridges. The mission has space for 32 people to sleep, but Dr. Hayes said they never turn anyone away as long as there is space on the floor. Some homeless would rather not spend the night in the mission but in the winter when the weather turns cold, more and more will show up for a spot inside. During the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are around 2,000 meals cooked for those who come to the mission and the shut-ins that have their meal brought to them.

“Right now we need coats and blankets for the cold weather that we will have this winter,” Hayes said. “I have tried to talk to most of the churches in this area and let them know just how bad the situation really is. If anybody wants to donate coats and blankets, and other clothing, they can leave it on my front porch at 406 Garrett, or call me at 867-6435 and I will come and get them. We go down twice a month and help out and we can take what is collected.”

The clothing that is not given to individuals is put into a thrift store for resale, but food and clothing are not all that is needed. The mission is supported by contributions and the donations that are given are never too small to be useful.

“Anything that is donated is tax deductible,” Hayes said.

In addition to helping feed and clothe all of those homeless people, the mission also has a drug program that not only helps eliminate the drug use, but gives a future to those who take advantage of the program.

Those who have drug problems have the opportunity to change their lives for the better.

“The program carries through with help after the addiction,” Hayes said. “To get them drug free doesn’t help if they have nothing to look forward to in the future. Those who choose to do so can start with a three months drug rehab at the mission and then four months at New Hope in Gulf Breeze. At the end of the 28 weeks, they are given a choice of three things; get a job and stay at the facility for seven months; go to George Stone Technical School and stay for 18 months or enroll and attend Pensacola Junior College and stay for two years. During this time Olive Road Baptist Church has offered a place for them to live until they are on their feet. They are also encouraged to attend the church, as the whole mission is a Christian-based facility. Those who choose to go on with their education are helped to obtain Pell Grants.”

Hayes said in addition to the blankets and coats that are needed they are entering the season when they could really use some toys for the children who come to the mission and anything would be appreciated. They will take any kind of clothing except underwear and socks.