House of Mercy shelter ready for homecoming

William Turner was having trouble finding some socks.

It was a Wednesday afternoon at House of Mercy in Columbus, a time when clothes, food and furniture is put out in the parking lot to be distributed to the needy.

The 50-year-old Turner had already found a shirt and some slacks.

"I have to go visit my sister in the hospital. She is on life support," he said. "Thanks to the folks here, I don't have to go to the hospital wearing these pants that have paint all over them. When my mother died eight months ago, they gave me a suit with new shoes to wear to the funeral. This place is a blessing."

Johanne Harris, House of Mercy executive director, said the giveaways draw large crowds three days a week.

"A lot of people need help," she said.

Beginning Sunday, House of Mercy on Third Avenue will celebrate its efforts for the poor with homecoming week events. All activities are free to the public.

There will be a music fest starting at 7 p.m. in the chapel with a performance from The Gospel Kings. Bishop Felix Hill and his daughter, Katlin Hill, will also provide entertainment.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, revival services will begin at 7 p.m.

"Revival is important for any church," Harris said. "Anyone who needs reviving can be revived. It is a chance to accept the Lord."

The annual picnic will be Saturday at 2 p.m.

"There will be plenty of food for everyone," Harris said.

The festivities will conclude Sunday at 7 p.m. with a candlelight service in memory of House of Mercy founder Ocie Harris and her son, Bobby Harris, who was executive director when he died in August 2014.

The current House of Mercy leader took over after her husband died. She was working as assistant director at the time.

"We have had a lot of success stories here, people who were down and got back up on their feet and found a place of their own to live," she said.

Harris is hoping many of them will come back to visit for fellowship during the homecoming.

She is also hoping local residents will visit to see and hear about the good work being accomplished.

"Perhaps they will want to contribute," she said. "We have a lot of expenses. Our electric bill is $4,000 a month."

A special "thank you" board is now being put up to honor those who help.

Currently, 55 people, including 12 children, live in the homeless shelter. Harris said it is impossible to take in anyone with a lack of mobility. That is because the rooms are on the second floor and there is a lot of walking up and down stairs.

"I had a woman come here the other day with her son," Harris said. "We could not take her because she is in a wheelchair. It broke my heart."

Like many people in the area, House of Mercy needs assistance. The homeless shelter is located in a former elementary school that was built in 1895.

"There are a lot of leaks," Harris said. "It is really bad in the hall."

Sitting under the water-stained ceiling in her office, Harris added the plumbing is old and mortar between the bricks is crumbling. Old appliances are also in constant need of repair.

Recently, a new van was purchased because two others could no longer be used.

"It got too expensive to fix them all the time," she said.

But despite those difficulties, Harris said House of Mercy has not slowed down in doing the work it has done for about 40 years.

"We are feeding and clothing hungry people," she said.

Harris is proud of the work of the ministry.

"We are doing the work that all churches should be doing," she remarked, adding the more support from local churches would be welcome.

Harris would like to purchase some adhacent land, where another building could be built with living quarters on a ground floor.

"We have people living in the woods on the land right now. Many of them come here on Sunday for a church service and we feed them," she said. "To get what we need, we would have to receive some pretty big donations."