This is the second part of an ongoing series looking at homelessness and housing insecurity in rural Ohio counties. Read the first story here.
Keith Wasserman opened up his remodeled basement to people experiencing homelessness more than four decades ago and hasn’t looked back.
He asked his professors at Ohio University if he could do it for an internship when he was 22 and they gave him the thumbs up.
“I was excited,” Wasserman, now 65, said. “I was not fearful.”
Thus Good Works, Inc. began in 1981 — when Wasserman was an OU senior.
Since then, Good Works has provided housing to thousands of people spanning nine counties in Southeastern Ohio — Athens, Gallia, Jackson, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton and Washington.
“Our main goal is safe, clean, temporary, stable,” Wasserman said. “It’s my view that if you can create a space like that, people can kind of figure out how to move forward.”
From 1981 until 1984, Good Works operated out of Wasserman’s basement on Elliott Street until it moved to one of its current facilities on Central Avenue. It has since grown to a few different shelters and various services in Athens — including the Timothy House, Sign of Hope, the Transformation Station and Friday Night Life.
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Good Works, a non-profit organization, is a Christian community that strives to live out biblical love and is focused primarily on helping three groups of people — strangers, widows and children.
“I just believe in cultivating a personal relationship with God that has impacted your life and that impacts results in taking care of yourself, taking care of people that you love, and then taking care of strangers,” Wasserman said.
The Timothy House
The Timothy House, 91 Central Ave., offers short-term housing and has provided an average of 167 people with shelter each year over the past five years, according to their website.
It has four bedrooms with 15 beds, a living room, a kitchen, two bathrooms, two offices, a computer training lab and a large meeting room. All the food in the Timothy House kitchen has been donated by people.
Anyone who wants to stay at the Timothy House must first go through a telephone interview at 740-594-3333, then a face-to-face interview and pass a drug test. Once those steps are complete, staff and volunteers let the person know over the phone if they can stay at the Timothy House.
“We do get situations that are just beyond our capacity,” Wasserman said. “We know our limits, and we can’t help everyone. Sometimes the answer is a hard no.”
Staff and volunteers help those staying at the Timothy House identify and work through what led them to homelessness. People also create short, medium and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal could be getting a job and a medium-term goal could be keeping the job. Or it could be related to a person’s health or education.
Those living at the Timothy House have to abide by the house rules — which include a 10 p.m. curfew and being out of the house by 10 a.m. Residents can start staying at the house at 5:15 p.m.
The Timothy House doesn’t have a cap on the length of stay. Instead, they evaluate various metrics on a weekly basis including what someone is doing to get out of the Timothy House, has someone been intentionally deceiving the staff, and can that person follow the structure of the Timothy House?
People end up staying on average for about 32 days, Wasserman said.
The Timothy House has helped people from all walks of life including two-parent and single-parent families, single men, single women, victims of domestic violence, substance abusers, veterans and students.
People come to the Timothy House for a variety of reasons including a lack of affordable housing, lack of fair wage employment, mental and emotional illness, drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, legal issues, money management and child custody issues. About half the people Good Works serves come to them as a result of a domestic dispute.
“When a person enters homelessness, it is usually very much their last choice,” said Amy Riegel, the executive director of Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO).
Ohio’s poverty rate was 13.4% in 2021, and the nine counties Good Works serves all had higher poverty rates, according to Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies latest State of Poverty report.
Meigs County’s poverty rate was 21.1%, Athens County was 20.9%, Vinton County was 19.3%, Gallia County was 18%, Jackson County was 17.7%, Morgan County was 16.4%, and Perry County was 13.9%, according to the report.
Former residents, now staff members
Good Works has hundreds of volunteers and 20 staff members, including two who were former residents.
Terri Woodson lived in the Timothy House and is now an administrative assistant for Good Works.
“It’s very much a home environment,” she said in a video on Good Works website. “You do feel that right away when you come in. The residents share with one and other and they try to help one and other out.”
Sherilyn Weinkauf stayed at the Timothy House for 93 days with her two kids — ages nine and four at the time.
“They took me when I didn’t have any money or anything, any place to go, no family and it kind of became my family,” she said in the video.
Sign of Hope
Good Works is in the process of opening another temporary shelter called Sign of Hope, 100 Central Ave., that will house people with disabilities.
“Our goal is to help people we’ve never been able to serve who have a physical limitation of some kind and can’t take steps,” Wasserman said.
Sign of Hope has two bedrooms with a wheelchair lift on the front porch. They are still in the zoning process to determine how many people the shelter can hold at a time.
Good Works also runs the Transformation Station in Athens which provides appliances, non-emergency food, bicycles and vehicles to people through “sweat equity” volunteer work.
People can reach out to Good Works about the items and Good Works then invites them to volunteer to earn those things through points they accumulate as they volunteer.
“Without public transportation, it’s very difficult to maintain employment,” Wasserman said. “That’s why we created this car program.”
Good Works recently celebrated the 198th person to earn a car through the Transformation Station. They currently have 38 people on the waiting list for a car.
“This is what I’m supposed to be doing”
Wasserman, who grew up in Cleveland Heights, became a Christian when he was 16 and that’s when things started changing in his life.
“Everything began to shift, in particular my view of people, places and things,” he said.
Wasserman started going to Ohio University in 1976 and graduated with a degree in mental health.
He did a couple other internships before starting Good Works out of his basement. He interned at My Sister’s Place, a domestic abuse support agency serving Athens, Hocking, and Vinton Counties. He also did an internship at the Athens Lunatic Asylum where he met Billy Milligan, the first person in American history to successfully use multiple-personality disorder as a defense for a violent crime.
But he had never worked with the homeless before Good Works.
“I had a lot to learn,” he said.
He married his wife Darlene in 1981 and they bought a house in the neighborhood near the Timothy House in 2012 and used to let people stay at their home when the Timothy House was at capacity.
“I still see people in this town that stayed with me in my basement, on Elliott Street, in the early years here, and they’re doing well,” Wasserman said. “I definitely feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I find joy in doing it.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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