MERCER COUNTY, Ohio — It’s easily been a decade since Abounding Grace Ministries Pastor Rick Brocher brought up the topic of homeless in Mercer County. “I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to that have looked me in the eye and said, really? Homeless people in Mercer County? We don’t have homeless people.”
Brocher and Abounding Grace Ministries saw the need every day and realized they had to do something. Abounding Grace owns about 30-acres of property most of which is open fields and a wooded area.
The organization invited people to come stay on the property. Brocher said, “a lot of folks lived out here in tents.” Others lived in the cars. “Finally, we come to the point of saying we’ve got to do something.”
So, in 2015, Brocher said they came up with a plan to build one small cabin. The next year they built another. Today, the property has 11 cabins, and its official name is Hand-Up Village.
“Our cabins are always full. I get phone calls every day. I had a boy call me last night telling me he’s living under a bridge, and we’re trying to figure out something for him.” The village gives people a warm, clean, safe place to stay. And Brocher tells people, “You have to change the way you think, change your mind.”
That’s the very first thing that has to happen. If they don’t change the way they think, they are going to continue the path of failure.” On average, people stay about six months. This gives them time to get back on their feet and get moving in the right direction.
“We get them a job. While living here, they have to deposit at least 50 percent of what they make into a Hand-Up savings account they cannot touch. This is for the purpose of renting a place, paying deposits for utilities and those kinds of things.”
Hand-Up has guests as old as 92 and as young as 18. And this has been home to multiple mothers with babies. “You have to change the way you think, change your mind. That’s the very first thing that has to happen. If they don’t change the way they think, they are going to continue the path of failure.”
Brocher said none of this would be possible without the community’s generosity. From helping build the cabins, to day-to-day operations, including purchasing toilet paper, every little bit helps.
“It’s amazing the support that Mercer County pours out to make this thing happen day after day, week after week, month after month. He estimates Hand-Up has helped easily 250 since it built that first cabin in 2015.
Brocher said Hand-Up could easily build another dozen cabins, but that still would not be enough to help all the homeless in the county.
“I’d like to say every person who comes here is a success story. That would be a huge lie. Not everybody that comes changes, not everybody that comes wants a hand up. A lot of folks want a hand-out.”
In 2023, Brocher said he’s never seen homelessness this bad in Mercer County. However, Hand-Up refuses to lose focus on the good it can provide people who show up at the village lost in life and with nothing of their own. “When you see folks leave here, and months and years after they are still doing well., and they’re being successful, that’s an amazing feeling. Yes sir, this community is making a difference.”
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