Refuge in Jesus homeless shelter clients were still living in the downtown Jasper facility the day after a shelter director said they would leave to abide by a court order. Tenants refuse to leave because they believe they have a right to stay until at least the end of the month, and have no other housing options.
“It’s cold at night and we don’t have anywhere to go,” said Tia Howard, who has been a resident at the shelter for nine months along with her disabled husband David. “Where are we supposed to go? There’s nowhere to live we can afford. If it closes, we’d be on the street.”
A young woman who was at the shelter that afternoon, March 16, sleeps in a car in front of the building. There were a few young children there as well. In all, Tia said there are 16 tenants. She called shelter founder Amy Ghorley an “angel sent from God.”
Tia assists the shelter’s house manager with day-to-day duties and said they would not follow March 15 deadline. She argues that the shelter’s lease has been paid through the end of the month, and the landlord will have to file an eviction notice to make them leave. Their refusal is in stark contrast to what Refuge in Jesus board member Steven Lovell said only days prior to the March 15 deadline, which was that tenants would vacate by that date. He said in an article in this week’s Progress they would leave as it was a court order and they had no choice.
Tia and other shelter tenants are hopeful Refuge in Jesus can work out issues at a proposed new location at 735 Martin Road. The shelter has paid rent for a few months at that location and admitted to beginning work there prior to building and septic permits being issued.
They hit road blocks with the septic system, fire codes, and other ordinance issues. On March 10, Pickens Superior Court issued an emergency order to prevent the shelter from occupying or working on the Martin Road building. The fire marshal issued a stop work order in early March. Printed copies of both are posted on the front door of the building. If anyone involved with the shelter violates these orders they can be removed from the property.
Pickens County Commission Chair Kris Stancil said in an article in this week’s paper that based on statements Lovell had previously made to the fire marshal and other comments from shelter supporters online, they worried shelter leaders would not stop work and move to the new location regardless.
A Pickens Board of Public Health meeting regarding the septic system was held on Tuesday, March 14, where Lovell was in attendance. Public health officials say the current system is old and inadequate to accommodate 16 full-time residents, and must be replaced.
Refuge in Jesus, a 501(c)3 opened in 2021. Soon after shelter leaders found themselves at the center of a battle with the city of Jasper, which eventually deemed the building unsuitable for occupation because they said it is not up to fire codes.