ELLIS COUNTY

Reverend John Stout has served the homeless community across Texas and Louisiana for the past seven years. He has now stepped up to represent the Ellis County Homeless Coalition as its new chairperson.

The nine-year Waxahachie resident and Southwestern Assemblies of God University alumnus founded Runners Refuge, a mission to help homeless people in Dallas, Fort Worth and New Orleans get back on their feet. Stout affirmed there is not yet a homeless crisis in Ellis County but, if someone does not get in front of the problem, people living on the streets could become an issue with the significant population growth.

In January, a Point-in-Time report was conducted, also known as a PIT count. Volunteers roamed the streets over a 10-day period and counted 10 homeless people unsheltered. This number does not include those who are in shelters, living in motels or staying on a friend’s couch.

“Look at Ellis County with a population of 173,000 right now with a projected population of 446,000 people by 2025, that homeless number is going to grow,” Stout relayed at the homeless coalition meeting on Tuesday.

The mission of the coalition is simple: To create housing opportunities and educate the community. “There is not a homeless crisis in Ellis County. […] But, there is a housing crisis,” Stout emphasized.

“It is really being proactive to a situation that we are being reactive to everywhere else,” said Stout, who noted Runners Refuge's in Fort Worth, Dallas and New Orleans that operate under that same mindset.

“Especially now with Dallas’ 'grow south' campaign — they’re pushing all of the low-income housing out through a process called gentrification. That’s also happening here in Waxahachie," Stout elaborated.

He also noted the Public Housing Authority currently has a three-year waiting list and that 46 percent of the population is classified as overburdened with more than 30 percent of their income dedicated to their house payment.

“The major cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing,” Stout emphasized.

Through his experience of providing services in cities where homelessness is a crisis, Stout believes his insight can be extremely beneficial to prevent a crisis in Ellis County.

As chairperson of the Ellis County Homeless Coalition, Stout wants to challenge Ellis County commissioners to create incentives for the construction of mixed-income housing.

“We need to get the commissioners to dedicate some money toward the Public Housing Authority,” Stout advocated. “There’s no reason those buildings were built in the 50s and have not been updated. And there’s a three-year waiting list to get in them, and most of them are seniors.”

Stout also called upon the churches of Ellis County. Stout envisions churches across the county becoming involved and having representatives attend the meetings to collaborate on providing resources and education to the public.

“The churches are not taking care of the poor, the government is not taking care of them, and someone has to. I feel as if God has called us to do that,” Stout stated generally speaking.

He wants Waxahachie and Ellis County not only to be a desirable place to live but an affordable place to live. The mission of the coalition is to make sure there are affordable housing and resources.

The primary misconception Stout hears around Ellis County is if resources are provided to aid then the homeless population will only grow.

Stout has only attended two local coalition meetings and has quickly acclimated himself to the cause on a local level. The former chairperson, Melissa Rawlins, shared in an email to the group that no one had stepped to lead the coalition and Stout believed that the coalition was at risk of un-organizing if someone didn’t step up to lead. Stout saw an opportunity to prevent a crisis from happening.

SERVING THE HOMELESS

For seven years, Stout worked as the managing chef for an international food organization — Mercy Chefs —that operates as disaster relief.

In between disasters, the food truck would sit in a parking lot begging to be used. The idea to feed the homeless turned into a conversation. Once the logistics were figured out, Stout and some friends supplied the homeless with meals one December.

Feeding the homeless turned into a church service for that community. Between the feeding, ministry and charitable drives, Stout and his wife realized they organized a full-time homeless ministry.

Stout is the founder and president of Runners Refuge, which operates in New Orleans and four homeless church campuses between Ft. Worth and Dallas. The ministry is a homeless advocacy organization that provides pastoral counseling and legal aid services to clients through partner licensed professional counselors, medical professionals and legal advisors. He wanted to provide a place for people to go to when they needed to get through the hurt that’s caused them homelessness.

“There are some drug-addicted homeless, and there are some homeless with mental illnesses. But the majority of homeless people... have just fallen on hard times and they just need someone to help them get back up,” Stout expressed.

Stout explained that homelessness happens when relationships run out — not the money. He even once faced trials in his life and found himself homeless.

“Through the course of life, I found myself living in a car. And it wasn’t for long. It was a brief period, and at the same time it was enough to realize anyone could be homeless,” Stout disclosed.” We are all one bad decision or mistake away from being homeless.”

Stout made it his mission to help the homeless whether that be with providing a meal or establishing a program to get the homeless to become homeowners. Stout can be found on a street corner with a pot of coffee or handing someone a snack from his vehicle stashed with food and bottled water.

Runners Refuge has recently purchased a homeless rehabilitation house —Nehemiah's House which was established 10 years ago by The Lord’s Hands and Hearts Ministries. The house is now under renovation as is the program.

Initially, the program worked on getting a homeless person into housing within nine months. Now, an additional 12 months have been added to the program to get that person from housing to home ownership. At Nehemiah's House, folks work to gain a good credit score, establish a work resume and work on their criminal history. Stout shared the program has experienced a high success rate, and the people brought in are not chronically homeless, “usually if someone has been homeless for more than five years, they’re homeless, and for the most part they will not come out of that.”

The Ellis County Homeless Coalition meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at 208 Patrick St. Stout can be reached by his email at jstout@runnersrefuge.org. For more information on Runners Refuge, log onto www.runnersrefuge.org.

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news 469-517-1450