Written By: Sara Beck | Photographed By: Arthur Green
When I first descended the stairs leading into The Hope Center, I didn’t feel like I had walked into a homeless shelter, but rather a gathering of friends. Everyone in the building seemed comfortable around one another, and there was nothing to distinguish volunteers from the people seeking shelter there. This air of friendship and compassion is something The Hope Center has worked hard to create, and this is just one of the many things that sets the shelter apart from others in the area. The Hope Center of Wilmington is a rehabilitating shelter for individuals experiencing poverty, providing them with food, clothing, and most importantly, the compassion needed to get them back on their feet.
As I sat down for my interview with Randy Evans, who launched The Hope Center in the basement of Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in January of 2015, I immediately recognized his passion for what he does. The foundation he’s built all began when he noticed a lack of storage space for the possessions of unsheltered individuals—this is when he built the lockers that are still in the shelter today.
“This basement hadn’t been used in sixty years,” Evans said. “It wasn’t really even a place that could function as a day center.”
Now, however, the place is thriving; Evans claims that on a lively day, eighty to ninety people will visit The Hope Center. I asked him how many of these individuals he has a personal relationship with, and he answered, “All of them.” He also keeps in touch with the individuals that get back on their feet thanks to The Hope Center, which is something that should inspire us all to invest a little more into our community and the people living in it.
According to Evans, The Hope Center focuses on self-respect, dignity, and self-worth primarily by using language that differs from the norm and is specific to their mission. Despite the fact that it is considered a homeless shelter, he does not use the word “homeless.”
“I don’t use that term,” Evans said. “I’ll either say ‘unsheltered’ or ‘individuals experiencing poverty.’ Someone’s socioeconomic status doesn’t define who they are as a person.”
In fact, there are many commonly used terms and phrases that Evans has changed in order to “create a culture through language.” For example, instead of “feeding the homeless,” he “shares a meal” with them. The reasoning behind this shift in language is to detract from the us and them mentality that often distracts people from the real meaning of volunteering and helping those who are less fortunate.
Evans recalled that previously, when he used to do charity work, he would leave feeling good about himself—a phenomenon he called “the pink cloud.” Instead of using volunteer opportunities as a way to feel like a better person, The Hope Center encourages people to fully invest in those who seek shelter there, viewing them as equals as opposed to projects. This way, it’s no longer us and them—it’s we.
“This,” Evans emphasized, “is how we’re developing the self-worth, the self-respect, and the dignity.”
The Hope Center accepts individuals who have been barred from other homeless shelters. These people may be felons, or they may be lacking an identification card, which is required in order to gain entry to most shelters.
“We try not to have the typical expectations,” Evans added.
Evans put emphasis on the fact that he helps these individuals find jobs that pay a living wage. He wishes to “create a culture where tomorrow, you might see someone on the street, but a year from now they may be delivering your mail.” So far, it seems to be working, as The Hope Center has successfully helped over thirty people off the streets. In fact, Evans believes that having nobody unsheltered is a goal the community can reach within the next few years simply by working together.
As I questioned him further about the organization, I found myself asking what the community can do as a whole to solve the problem of “homelessness.” His answer was simple, yet powerful.
“Compassion,” he said. “I used to think it was made up, that the poor are invisible, but that’s so true.”
He believes just smiling at someone when you see them on the street can make a difference. The amount of unsheltered people on the streets can seem overwhelming, but if someone like Evans believes this is a problem we can tackle, we should believe it too.