By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
You might not realize it, but the Beacon Rescue Mission is getting ready to celebrate 30 years of service to the communities of Harnett and Sampson counties.
Executive Director Gene Love began operating the shelter out of his home in Johnston County.
He was contacted by police after a woman was housed in the Harnett County Detention Center because she had nowhere else to turn.
“The police in Angier called me after they found a woman with a baby right off the bus who needed a place to stay,” Mr. Love recalled. “So, my wife and I went to Angier and brought them home with us.”
From those humble beginnings the shelter transformed from bedrooms in the Love home to the 40-bed facility that now sits on West Broad Street in Dunn.
It was the decision by Mr. Love to run a shelter, at first from his home.
“We put the kids on the couch and let our new friends use their rooms,” he said. “Then we realized we needed more room.”
Then came a move to their old location on Ellis Avenue in Dunn where they stayed until needs and growth led them to a house on Harnett Street.
That’s also where Mr. Love learned the difficulties involved with housing both men and women.
“Taking care of both men and women ended up costing more than I thought,” Mr. Love said. “So when I saw the ‘For Sale’ signs on this building, I asked the Lord if this was the right thing to do.”
Through it all, Mr. Love has always used a guiding principle that still holds true today.
“We do this to share the Gospel,” he said. “We do it free of charge and never take a donation from the people we have staying here.”
With no state or federal funding, the shelter, instead, runs on donations and the sales that come from the four thrift stores they operate.
The stores in Dunn, Erwin, Coats and the newest location in Lillington, have combined to provide over 73 percent of the shelter’s funding in the last year.
“The four stores put new merchandise on the rack every day and new clothes on the rack every day,” Mr. Love said. “We have people who come in every day, sometimes, and find what they need.”
When you discuss with Mr. Love the funding aspects of the shelter, he offers reassurance to customers of the thrift stores and those who bring donations to the shelter, their money is being utilized to its fullest.
“Every penny we make goes to the shelter,” he said. “None of the money goes to people who work in the thrift stores. It all goes back to the shelter.”
Mr. Love has designed the shelter to reach more than just the typical person who is forced through circumstances to live on the street.
The shelter is also a place where families or people who are struck by an emergency can seek shelter.
There are two 20-bed units inside the shelter.
The first is the place where people in need can go if they agree to follow one of the guiding principles Mr. Love has established over the years.
“When someone comes to us for help and we let them stay, they have to keep a promise,” Mr. Love said. “They must promise to stay off of drugs and alcohol while they’re here and make the effort to find a job and get back on their feet.”
Beacon Mission is doing something very right, they have successfully helped 90 percent of the people who come to them transition back into the community.
That includes finding a job and finding a place to live on their own.
“We’ve helped thousands of people and the rules have never changed,” he said. “They’re the same rules we still use today.”
While the goal is a 100 percent success rate, there are those who come to Mr. Love and not keep their end of the agreement.
For that Mr. Love keeps in mind another principle.
“We can’t help people who won’t help themselves,” he said with a sad tone. “There’s not very many, but there are a few.”
At the other end of the spectrum of services provided by Beacon Rescue is the new E32 unit. The name is an acronym for emergency and below 32 degrees.
The shelter is available for victims of emergencies such as a fire or even if the heat in your house goes out.
Mr. Love says the shelter works with local fire departments and the Red Cross to provide shelter for families or individuals who have no place else to go after an emergency.
“As long as we’ve got a place, there is a place for people to stay,” he said. “We want people to know we’re there to help.”
The other part of the equation for the 20-bed unit that makes up E32 is helping people who are without shelter when the temperatures drop below freezing.
“When it gets below 32 degrees we fly the flag of the big cities,” Mr. Love said. “We give them a place to come in from the cold.”
When someone walks through the doors of Beacon Mission you immediately get a sense of the true spirit.
Mr. Love stresses the atmosphere is always Christian and always geared toward serving the Lord.
“The reason is to share the Gospel and maintain a Christian atmosphere,” Mr. Love said. “When you walk into the front door we want people to feel comfortable and feel the Christian atmosphere and to let them know we’re here to help.”