Starting out as an abandoned warehouse at 5712 U.S. 49 South, The Fieldhouse has turned into a safe haven for hundreds of people in need.
The Fieldhouse for the Homeless, established by Priscilla Brown and Cynthia Young in the summer of 2013, has brought support and opportunities to the Hattiesburg homeless community and to local volunteers.
“Every day there are new people [at the shelter],” said Fieldhouse co-founder Cynthia Young. “It’s hard to put a number on how many there are.”
The Fieldhouse has changed lives the past three years, providing those in need with warmth or cool air, a resting place, bathrooms, showers, laundry, help with job searches, health screenings, housing assistance, I.D. assistance and other services homeless men and women struggle to attain.
Each homeless individual has a unique personal story behind his or her current situation. Brown and Young said they have made it The Fieldhouse’s mission to make homelessness a season of life rather than a way of life.
The Fieldhouse offers counseling, personal hygiene supplies, showers, a washer, dryer, transportation, bus tokens, access to telephones, access to computers, access to clothing, medical vouchers, family reunification assistance, pre-employment training and support, state I.D. assistance, emergency food and shelter, application assistance for SSI, VA Benefits, SNAP and FAFSA.
The shelter aims to provide “barrier-free services to empower those who find themselves in a desperate situation,” according to its website.
Multiple organizations in the community support The Fieldhouse, hence its notable success in supporting the homeless. The shelter coordinates with Salvation Army, Christian Services, St. Vincent’s De Paul, Hope House, R3SM, PRVO, MUTHE and other churches and synagogues in the area.
“God has shown up ever since the doors have been open,” Young said. “A lot of the times, when we’re talking about the things we need, someone shows up with that thing. It happens all the time. God is just in charge.”
Young’s and Brown’s dream is “to create a ministry that would provide a safe, nurturing environment to homeless people in Hattiesburg while also providing them with the materials necessary to begin a more stable phase in their lives.”
“We saw the need for people who are really hungry on the weekend and on holidays, so that is definitely a major gap that we’re trying to fill in, and we’re just trying to get the community to embrace what we’re doing,” Young said.
Rachel West, 33, works at the shelter greeting newcomers and tending to people’s needs by day.
“They know I struggle with alcoholism daily, so they put me to work,” she said.
By night, she lives in a tent behind the shelter.
“I don’t get cold and I don’t get rained on,” West said. “I’ve got a tent mansion out there. At nighttime, when I leave, it’s another story. I try really hard. I really do, but it’s hard.”
West first came to the shelter seeking help three years ago.
“When I came here, I came here with absolutely nothing,” she said. “When I left for a year, Igotmeajob,andIusedthe money in negative ways: drugs [and] alcohol. I still struggle with alcoholism a lot. It’s a daily struggle. The sisters just took me in, and they’ve given me everything I need. The sisters take care of us.”
The shelter collaborates with Christian Services, which supplies food throughout the week. Churches, local organizations and schools often donate to The Fieldhouse.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree visited the shelter Wednesday morning and donated money to fix the facility’s sewage problems.
“Some people think of The Fieldhouse as ‘all those dirty, nasty homeless people,’” West said. “But then you have others that absolutely love this place, love what the sisters are doing and they come and are ready to volunteer here. You come here, and this feels like home. And it is home. I know for me,it is home. This place is a refuge for a lot of people. It’s a Christian- based refuge. We have devotion every morning and night.”
West hopes to write music full time in the future as she gets backs on her feet.
Joshua Barnes, 26, has received assistance from both The Fieldhouse and the Salvation Army, but despite the help he received, he still struggled with homelessness.
“I have faced life and death experiences,” he said. “Being homeless has truly changed my life forever and has opened my eyes and brought me to where I was meant to be.It had to be one of the darkest times I have ever faced. But I’m still alive. I survived.”
Barnes is now living in a home and has a paying job.
“After two years of agony, I am no longer homeless,” he said.
The Fieldhouse continues to support people in need, regardless of background or situation. Brown and Young are in further collaborations with organizations to support the growth of The Fieldhouse.