Summer strains Delta shelter's finances

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Danny and Shirley Hollowell direct the Amen Center, a homeless shelter in the former Delta Elementary School. (Fred Lynch)

At 49, she'd lost her job. She'd lost her home to foreclosure. She says she lost absolutely everything.

Today the former art teacher is living at the Amen Center shelter in Delta.

"I came in November and then left for a few months. I decided this was a much better place to get my life back on track so I came back," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

At the Amen Center, she has her own bed. She gets three meals a day and a ride to and from her new job at a local manufacturing company. She's saving to buy a car and then move out on her own again.

About 25 people call the center home right now, but earlier this summer the not-for-profit, nondenominational homeless shelter had 59 residents staying there, said Shirley Hollowell, who operates the center with her husband, Danny. That's the most it's had at one time since opening in the former Delta Elementary School last fall with just a couple classrooms converted to living quarters.

This summer has put a strain on the center's finances, so a 5K run and mile walk will be held Saturday to raise funds to help it continue its mission. The race and walk will begin at the center at 8 a.m. The facility will be open for tours as well.

Financial support is needed to help pay for insurance, the mortgage on the building and utilities, Shirley Hollowell said. The insurance and mortgage are each about $1,000 a month, she said.

Although the building has air conditioning, the center can't afford to turn it on, Danny Hollowell said. With temperatures forecast above 100 in the coming days, residents are trying to keep cool by running fans.

"If it keeps getting hotter, we may have to turn it on and just pray that God will find a way for us to pay for it," Danny Hollowell said.

Residents are referred to the center by the Salvation Army, Community Counseling Center, police departments and local churches. All are interviewed and background checks are conducted on each one by the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. Anyone ever charged with or convicted of a sex crime is not allowed to stay, Shirley Hollowell said. Couples are allowed to stay in the same room only if they provide the center with their marriage license.

The Hollowells sold their four-bedroom Cape Girardeau home to move into the former school and operate the shelter. They took everything they had with them, and the rest of the center's furniture has been donated. With help from church groups and volunteers, 13 former classrooms have been converted into living spaces. What was once the school gym is now a worship center, where a large painting of Jesus surrounded by children hangs. It was painted by the former art teacher who now calls the center home.

Other rooms have been converted into a kitchen, where two of the residents are responsible for preparing meals for those who stay there, a television room and a children's playroom.

The center can handle about 90 residents and has served more than 200 people since opening last fall.

According to the last count conducted in January by the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and the Missouri Housing Development Commission, there were 1,469 homeless people outside of the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas. Shelters and agencies that help the homeless are responsible for submitting those counts to the state.

The Point In Time count, done twice a year in January and July, divides the state into 10 regions. In Region 1, which stretches from Franklin and Jefferson counties south of St. Louis to Cape Girardeau County, 202 homeless people were reported as staying in shelters or transitional housing according to the January count. In Region 6, which goes from Scott County south to include all of the Missouri Bootheel, 114 individuals were reported as homeless.

Danny Hollowell, a reformed meth addict, said God changed his life and then laid it on his heart to help the homeless.

"I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk one day and God said to me 'Take him home.' so I did," he said.

Those who stay at the Amen Center also have to help themselves.

They're required to help with the center's operations in some way, depending on their abilities. The center has a three-acre garden, including 300 tomato plants, its residents help with. Vegetables are used at the center, and what isn't used is sold at roadside stands and farmers markets. The center also planted five acres of sweet corn and has about 50 chickens. The residents also have done some carpentry work and odd jobs.

Residents must also participate in worship services held twice a week at the center, which is classified by the IRS as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt church.

About 35 runners have already signed up for Saturday's run/walk fundraiser. Preregistration is not required. For more information, call Kim Mitchell at 573-382-1247 or visit


Pertinent address:

3666 State Highway N, Delta, MO

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