Young man with autism has a heart for homeless
CAMARILLO, Calif. — A few miles from the Camarillo Church…
NORMAN, Okla. — In this college town, known for national football titles and Heisman trophies, sits a community of a different kind — one that is changing lives by helping people get a fresh start.
Students at the University of Oklahoma, focused on big careers and bright futures, make up a large portion of Norman’s population. But just a couple of miles away from the university sits a neighborhood full of individuals and families who are living a different reality.
Their focus: where their next meal will come from and how they will stretch one paycheck to the next.
While the homeless population in Norman is not as big as in some large cities, there are hundreds who make their home under bridges or, if they’re lucky, in the warmth of the Salvation Army or other community shelters.
It’s a community that Gene McKown, a homebuilder and member of the Alameda Church of Christ, believes God has called him to serve — in a big way.
“I’ve never heard God talk to me,” McKown told The Christian Chronicle. “But, sometimes, I wake up in the morning with something so heavy on my mind that I just have to do something.”
That’s exactly what led Gene and his late wife Judy to spearhead the building of a community of 32 small houses — slightly bigger than the trendy “tiny homes” popping up across the country — to serve as transitional housing for the homeless.
VILLAGE SHARES LOVE, LIKE CHRIST
The idea came to McKown on a Sunday morning. As he sat in the pews, Alameda minister Rusty Tugman encouraged the congregation to live lives of benevolence.
“At the end of the sermon he said, ‘If you’ve been thinking about doing something benevolent in our community, I want you to go today or tomorrow and do something about it,’” McKown recalled.
So he did.
The next morning, he wrote a check and took it to a local nonprofit, Food and Shelter, and told workers there that he wanted to help them build a homeless shelter.
Within just a couple of weeks, McKown helped the organization to raise more than $300,000 toward the project.
“My personal goal is to get all the homeless people a place to sleep at night,” McKown said.
As the owner of Ideal Homes, McKown not only helped raise funds for the community, but he also was able to provide plans for the homes and get businesses in the area to donate lumber, bricks and other materials needed for the project.
The homes, each between 400 and 840 square feet, are a part of a larger plan — helping the homeless get on their feet.
“We’re trying to make homeless people into tax-paying people,” McKown said.
The Food and Shelter offices are on site. The nonprofit offer classes to residents on topics including money management and job interview skills. The charity also has a clothing room and serves several meals each day.
“Since opening The Village, we have already seen countless lives changed,” April Heiple, executive director of Food and Shelter, told the Chronicle. “This village is sharing love in a way Christ moves us to do.”
Area businesses and churches adopt the homes. They then provide furnishings, dishes and other household items for the residents — items they can keep when they’re able to move out of the community and into their own home.
The United Way of Norman awarded McKown its 2017 Kathey Hopper Drummond Community Service Award for “his leadership, compassion and dedication to making Norman better,” the award reads.
BUILDINGS AND BLESSINGS
“I’ve been very, very blessed,” McKown said. “(I’m) very fortunate to have the opportunity to do the things I do.
“I’m 74 years old. I come to work every day to make money to do stuff like this.”
He’s not slowing down, either.
McKown recently helped the Salvation Army build a new children’s center, and he hopes to help them add additional bed space to their shelter in the future — ensuring more people will have a warm place to sleep at night.
The projects are big, but he takes very little credit, pointing to God rather than himself.
“I just think it’s something God’s blessed me with, and it makes me happy,” McKown said.
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