Editor’s Note: Each November, in recognition of National Homeless Awareness Month, the the Quill partners with Martha Vance Samaritan Outreach Center to amplify the voices of residents past and present who have benefited from the shelter and resource program’s services, and to highlight Samaritan Outreach's positive impact on the local community. Learn more about the center by following @MarthaVanceSamaritanOutreachCenter on Facebook.
Alex McHenry, 18, and Mike Owen, 19, arrived at Martha Vance Samaritan Outreach Center on Aug. 7; their son Finnegan Owen arrived Nov. 3, joining his young parents at the only home he's known so far.
The two found out they were expecting in March, almost a year after they began dating. In April, they will have been a couple for two years. They graduated in 2022 from Willow Springs High School, and were living in Mt. Vernon with her father and adoptive mother, who McHenry says seemed excited to become a grandmother, but at the same time, wanted her out of the house.
McHenry and Owen were both working in Mt. Vernon, she holding two jobs as a waitress at one restaurant and hostess at another, and he working in maintenance at Walmart.
McHenry’s father gave the two a van and they lived in it for two weeks, mainly parking at truck stops while they looked for housing, but within about two weeks, in April, Owen had an accident while going to get food for the two of them because he had just been paid.
The two then lived with Owen’s grandparents in Pomona, but that didn't work out long-term either. In telling their story, sometimes Owen seems a little shell-shocked.
"It's been so much in the last eight months, it's hard to keep track," he says. "We've had a lot of very difficult obstacles."
With Owen's mother living in West Plains, the couple ended up at Samaritan Outreach after about an eight-hour search for housing. There are a couple of rooms for families, but those were already taken by women with small children.
McHenry stays in her own room in the women's dorm with Finnegan, and Owen stays in the men's dorm. They have until Feb. 7 to find other housing before their six months at the shelter are up, but Owen says they are second from the top of the waiting list for housing at Jackson Street Apartments, income-based housing in West Plains.
It has not been the ideal beginning for a family starting out in addition to all of the challenges young people face entering the adult world of work, bills and starting a household, but Samaritan Outreach has a goal of getting its clients out into that "real world" by requiring them to apply to agencies that assist with food, housing, employment and healthcare.
Owen describes his experience over the last two and a half years as one of being "tossed around," adding family members have helped when they could, but he understands they have their own lives to live and bills to pay.
He says he would love to go to culinary or carpentry school, and Samaritan Outreach Executive Director Lori Concepcion vouches for Owen's cooking skills, as another requirement is to help with meals and other chores as a resident: "He's an excellent chef and can do amazing things."
Not being able to have the privacy and space to get used to being first-time parents is another obstacle the couple are on the way to overcoming, and hopefully there will be an opening for housing soon so they can start to live life as a "normal" family.
Samaritan Outreach also serves as a soup kitchen and a pickup location for food boxes a couple of times a month, so there is a lot of bustle and noise there at times.
For Christmas, Owen and McHenry wish for a good job for him. While she would love to be able to stay home with Finnegan, McHenry knows she will need to enter the workforce soon as well.
In the meantime, they are focused on being the best parents they can in the situation they find themselves in. Their immediate needs for Finnegan are clothing in sizes 3 to 12 months, diapers, wipes, rash cream, a stroller and a car seat/infant carrier.
They have Medicaid for Finnegan, but money to help pay copays for his routine doctor visits would help out, as well. They also have WIC (Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition) and S.N.A.P. (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps). Owen intends to apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as TANF.
Concepcion says the priority needs for Martha Vance Samaritan Outreach right now are financial, with repairs, utilities, phone and internet bills in addition to the food, insurance and mortgage on the building. The electric bill can run as high as $1,400 a month.
Transportation for residents as they apply for jobs, housing, medical assistance and other needs would also be appreciated, she said, adding city bus passes would help with that.
There are 23 residents at Samaritan Outreach now, including Finnegan and a 4-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl.
As always, food items for the shelter residents and the food pantry and soup kitchen are needed, along with shampoo, conditioner, soap, disposable razors and feminine hygiene products. Cleaning products like bleach, sanitizer, dish and laundry detergent, and paper towels and toilet paper are also always in demand, as are towels, washcloths, twin sheets, mattress pads, blankets and pillows.
Clothing, coats and other cold-weather garments like gloves, scarves and hats are also needed. Other items that may be used by residents as they move into permanent housing can be donated, but Concepcion asks that donors call ahead because they have little storage space for those types of donations.
She reminded that meals are available daily, with lunch served from noon to 1 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 6 p.m.; all are welcome and there are no income requirements or sign-ups necessary.
Those who are income-eligible may pick up a food box from the food pantry every other month, between 9 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Clothing is available by visiting from 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
To donate or for more information, call the center at 417-257-7792 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be made using Paypal or by sending a check or money order to 715 Missouri Ave., West Plains, MO, 65775.