Empty Bowl Supper to nourish House of Hope

House of Hope in Front Royal seeks to be a game changer for its residents and help them change their lives for the better.

A shelter for homeless men stuck in a cycle of bad luck or unwise decisions, its goal is reducing the area’s homeless rate while encouraging productive members of society.

But the shelter can’t do it alone.

“We thought that we could help everybody,” said shelter President Siggi Hepp-Dax. “But it turns out that we can’t.”

Still hopeful of the shelter’s positive effect on the community, Hepp-Dax said it will help anyone willing to help himself.

When men move into the shelter, she said, “[It] looks like they’re one shade away from death. You watch them change and watch their life change.”

“They begin to shed that horrible depression and they start smiling,” she said. “It’s so beautiful to see that transformation.”

A large part of that change comes through the shelter’s fundraising efforts, grant money and state funding.

One of its biggest fundraisers, The Empty Bowl Supper set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, at 14 W. First St., Front Royal, will serve gourmet soup and bread as a symbol of the constraints in which area homeless find themselves.

Many homeless are lucky if they get a bowl of soup a day, said House of Hope secretary Kent Jeter, who called the fundraiser a gala that addresses a serious issue.

The 16-bed facility opened 10 years ago to provide a home for area homeless and rehabilitate residents who might have lost their jobs and homes as a result of drugs or alcohol.

The shelter requires abstinence from illegal and addictive substances. Residents are drug tested before they’re invited to stay, but Hepp-Dax said she’s willing to offer leniency to those who recently quit using marijuana — a drug she said stays in a person’s system for three to four weeks.

“We’re trying to at least be reasonable about that,” she said.

As an outreach program, the shelter welcomes anyone in need for meals and other aid that includes a shower, laundry services and the chance to talk with someone and consult on available options.

For those who don’t know where else to turn, it’s a step in the right direction, said Hepp-Dax. House of Hope also helps the homeless find a job, housing and access to community services that will keep them on a course toward success.

“We will help in any way we can,” she said. And that help doesn’t end when a resident moves out. “We do what we can to keep in touch with our ex-residents,” she said.

But funding is such a continuous challenge, she said it’s tough to place everyone who needs a home or offer enough of the appropriate services.

The national Point-in-Time Count, held each year during the last week of January, judges an area’s number of homeless based on who shows up to soup kitchens, shelters or other community centers on that one night of the year, said Michael Wong of the Harrisonburg Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“Some of the numbers have decreased, especially in the northern area,” Wong said. Last year he noticed a decrease, too.

Ultimately a decrease in area numbers can affect the amount of state funding a region receives for helping area homeless, though he doesn’t expect January’s numbers to have a significant impact yet.

Instead, he saw it impacting future initiatives for funding and said area programs might need to seek more grant money as a result.

At the moment, he said, $1.4 million in state and federal dollars have been distributed to services throughout the region to help with the Rapid Re-Housing program through the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness and programs through Northwestern Community Services.

The department, which he said recently merged with the Continuum of Care for the Northern Shenandoah Valley and Harrisonburg-Rockingham Continuum of Care, serves the entire northern valley. The assessment doesn’t account for fluctuations, but the numbers were about what he expected.

But Hepp-Dax had a different experience with this year’s Point-in-Time Count.

On the designated midwinter night of Jan. 27, two of the area’s soup kitchens were closed because of a snowstorm, she said, so they weren’t able to count the people they usually serve.

“We know that they’re out there and they’re increasing,” she said. Luckily the economy is picking up, she said, “[but] too many families and too many people have fallen through the safety net. These services are really critical.”

“We work hard to make House of Hope better every day and keep it going and provide the best possible services that we can,” she said.

Hoping for a good turnout to Friday’s fundraiser, she said the goal would be to get ahead on funding for the year to have a greater feeling of security.

Soup will be provided by Griffin Tavern, Joe’s Steakhouse, Mountain Restaurant and Blue Wing Frog. Bowls will be donated by Kiln Doctor.

Basket Bonanza will provide a silent auction.

Grateful for its eight community sponsors and music by the Warren County High School jazz band, she said she expects the gala to be as lively as it was last year, when toe-tapping guests told her they felt the urge to get up and dance.

“We’re going to tell them go ahead if they want to.”

The supper is $25 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for children. Contact Siggi Hepp-Dax at 540-631-0956.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com