Renewed hope


At One Hopeful Place, Monk wants to create real, tangible change. He believes there’s not one cookie cutter way out of homelessness for everybody.

JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

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FORT WALTON BEACH — For the past decade, Nathan Monk has made a name for himself in the Pensacola area as an outspoken advocate for homeless people.

Now he’s working to familiarize himself in the Fort Walton Beach area as the new executive director of One Hopeful Place.

For two years city officials, business leaders, church leaders and volunteers have been working to turn the city’s old sewer plant into an emergency and transitional shelter. The shelter opened in August 2016 after several delays. When it opened it fell short on its promise to provide emergency shelter on cold nights. Instead, the city arranged to put up heated military tents at the site.

One the upside, Phase I of One Hopeful Place has provided shelter through it’s transitional program. Three men have “graduated” from the shelter and moving on to permanent housing after saving money or finding full-time work. There currently are 10 men living in Phase I. Monk said there should be three times as many residents.

Monk acknowledges the growing pains of the new and evolving organization, and says he’s here to help the shelter “make a difference for the community.”

“These are really kindhearted folks who all saw a problem, but didn’t have a great amount of time to see everything through,” Monk said. “The ideas have been good. … Time has been the missing component. This is still in its infancy. We have to learn from experiences, adapt and move forward.”

A change of plans

Monk wants to create real, tangible change at One Hopeful Place. He believes there’s not one cookie cutter way out of homelessness for everybody.

“Case workers will sit down and work with each client. … ‘Tell me your story, how you got here and what’s keeping you here,'” he said. “Not everyone needs financial training. Someone could have been injured and have been in the hospital. I’ve seen doctors, attorneys, nurses, authors, men who worked on oil rigs. … None of them are going to have the same path out of homelessness.”

One of the bigger changes Monk has made since he took the job in May is the new master plan for One Hopeful Place. Once the shelter raises the $500,000 needed to renovate the Phase II building, it will become a men’s shelter and the Phase I building will be open to women.

Looking at the most recent point-in-time survey, which is conducted by the Homelessness & Housing Alliance, Monk said he assessed the demographics of homeless people in Okaloosa and Walton counties and who already was being served. According to 2017 statistics, 401 persons were identified as homeless.

“Phase II is the largest building, so it will become the men’s shelter because we have more man than any other demographic,” Monk said.

Completing Phase II is Monk’s main goal right now. As soon as it’s completed, he said he anticipates the shelter having the space and staff to serve about 75 clients. Of course, the only thing holding back completion is money. Future plans include a wellness center, park, resource center and longer-term housing.

Over the past two years the shelter has raised more than $600,000 between funding from the Okaloosa County Development Corporation (OCDC), state money and private donations, said Ted Corcoran, director at large of the One Hopeful Place board. There are ongoing grants and fundraising efforts to help fund the project.

Monk is working part-time for a $24,000 salary as One Hopeful Place transitions from Okaloosa County Development Corporation leadership.

Corcoran said Monk is “perfect” for all aspects of the executive director job.

“I believe he will lead us to where we all have been wanting to go,” he said. “People are talking about it, and our community is rallying around the cause.”

‘Things are going to be different’

Monk had his first meeting with the cold night shelter volunteers Sept. 18. For 15 years local churches and individual volunteers have taken the lead to provide temporary shelter on nights that fall below 40 degrees.

“I’ve traveled all over and it’s very rare to see something like this,” Monk said of the cold-night program. “It warms my heart.”

One Hopeful Place was supposed to be the central shelter for cold nights last year but didn’t have adequate space. Monk has made a few changes to the program for 2017-18, namely getting rid of the tents, opening bathrooms and making the washer and dryer available to cold night guests.

“There are things that happened before I got here that should have never happened,” he said at the meeting. “Things are going to be different.”

The issue of homelessness is one that resonates deeply with Monk. His family struggled with homelessness when he was a child, something he discusses in his memoir “Chasing the Mouse.”

As an adult he started to get involved as a volunteer by handing out food at local parks, but realized early on that he wanted to make a bigger contribution. In 2014, he helped implement and worked at The Beacon, a homeless shelter for women and children.

“It’s a very important act of survival, but you can’t feed or blanket someone out of homelessness,” he said. “You have to turn survival into sustainability.”

Monk, who is a former priest, has became an outspoken advocate for the homeless community. He has spoken up at Pensacola City Council meetings or simply stood outside holding a “Feed the Poor” sign. On social media he is very vocal about civil rights and has a following of more than 65,000 Facebook fans.

In Fort Walton Beach, Monk said he will implement a social media presence for One Hopeful Place and will try to engage more young people to be involved in their community.

“Without volunteers we miss a huge piece of this puzzle,” he said.”It’s going to take every single part of this community.”