CELEBRATE CHEROKEE COUNTY: Friendship House offers help to homeless
52 Things to Celebrate About Cherokee County: No. 45 – Hurlburt-Johnson Friendship House
Murphy – Thanks to two men who saw a crucial need in Cherokee County, the Hurlburt-Johnson Friendship House was born.
Slim Hurlburt and Al Johnson, along with the Cherokee County Ministerial Association, purchased a downtown house in 1992 with an interest-free loan with hopes of turning it into a shelter for the homeless. It not only has helped thousands of people over the last 25 years, but it’s the only homeless shelter on this side of Asheville in western North Carolina.
The shelter opened on Aug. 7, 1993, and has thrived over the years with the hard work of volunteers, who have given their heart and soul to help those in need. A citizen board of directors was created in 2005 for the non-profit organization, when a major renovation was done to the house.
Today, it can host up to 27 people who need help getting back on their feet. The organization’s core mantra is, “From homelessness to self-sufficiency.”
Not a free ride
Folks who come to the shelter for help are not there to get a handout – they are getting a hand up.
In order to be eligible to stay, they must pass a background check and be drug and alcohol free. During their time there, they must submit to random drug testing.
Families with children are welcome, and no sex offenders are allowed at any time. The shelter also offers an emergency cold night shelter on nights with temperatures 32 degrees or below without the regular program screenings.
Shelter manager Pat Meeks and her staff of seven volunteers help guests get medical help if needed, including eye exams and mental health counseling. The shelter is seeking a dentist to work with.
The goal is to help find folks a permanent job and place to live, whether it is for just themselves or their family as well. Guests must either be working, looking for work or volunteering 30 hours per week to continue residence at the shelter.
Meeks said there was 27 people in the shelter as of Monday, and the winter months are the busiest.
The shelter served 408 people in 2017, up from 323 the previous year. Meeks cited the arrival of Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel as a factor.
“It’s great that it brought a lot of jobs here, but their presence also raised all the rents in the county,” Meeks said. “A lot of our folks have jobs at McDonald’s or somewhere like that, and many times it just isn’t enough to pay the rent.”
The shelter is funded by private donations, the Reseller Thrift Store (1335 U.S. 64 W. in Murphy) and grants. The thrift store also takes donations from the public.
The benefit gala for the Friendship House is Saturday, Dec. 1, at 5 p.m. at the McGuire Millrace Farm in Peachtree. For tickets, call 837-2654 or contact Deni Graves at Marketplace Antiques at 837-1060.
Meeks said the volunteers at the shelter work hard, but could use all the help they can get.
“This is a seven-day-a-week job for us,” Meeks said. “We sometimes see our volunteers get a little burned out, so we really could use some more.”
Meeks said she also hopes folks who see someone in need will help that person find their way to the Friendship House.
“If we can’t help them, we can probably find someone who can,” she said. “We all need to open our hearts. Some people can’t afford to help much but it does not cost anything to say ‘Hello, I’m So-and-So and can I help you?’
“If not for the grace of God, we could all be walking in their shoes.”
The shelter is at 73 Blumenthal St. For details, call 837-2654.