In 1989, Steve Key moved to High Point and began working at Open Door Shelter.
He did not have a long term vision of working with the homeless, but 30 years later, Key was celebrated at Open Door Ministries Annual Meeting for his work with the homeless in High Point.
Key was honored on March 19 with testimonials, a highlight video and a plaque commemorating his 30 years.
An award was also created in Key’s name — to be given annually to a board member who has given excellent and outstanding service to the organization.
In 1991, two years after Key began working with Open Door Shelter, the organization merged with Urban Ministry of High Point, moved to its current location at 400 N. Centennial Street and became Open Door Ministries.
With the merger and move, Open Door became a year-round shelter. Key was named executive director in 2001 and is still in that role.
“He’s been a visionary for how to help the homeless in High Point,” said Leigh Wagner, director of development.
That vision was to develop a place for guys to go after their time in the shelter that would allow them to work and continue to overcome drug and alcohol abuse, earn money and then move into permanent housing.
Even after men found jobs and left the shelter, many were going back into the situations that contributed their homelessness in the first place, Key said. They had resolved their immediate crisis and found employment but without solid support, they could easily find themselves back in the same situation.
That’s when the idea of transitional housing came into being. The Arthur Cassell house, a transitional housing facility with 14 beds, came about out of a partnership with the VA. Six beds in the Arthur Cassell house are for veterans, and eight are for the general population.
Key applied for a Homeless Prevention and Rapid ReHousing grant for the transitional housing. High Point was among three communities in North Carolina selected.
The goal is to prevent homelessness and move people into housing, he said.
“That ignited some other thoughts on what we could do,” Key said. The City of High Point eventually applied for a grant for a housing program that would provide rental assistance until people could get on their feet.
Mental-health and substance-abuse issues often play a role in homelessness, Key said. When the city received the grant, Open Door Ministries handled the case-management side so that the homeless were given shelter but also the care they needed to get them back on their feet.
“We didn’t want to keep rotating people through homeless shelters, so the question was: How can we get them housing that sticks?” Key said.
Key said chronically homeless people who end up in hospitals and emergency rooms cost the community more than it would take to put them into housing, help pay their rent and utilities and get them care they need. He said it is more cost effective to help get them into homes than for them to remain homeless.
The last five years, Open Door Ministries has been running rapid rehousing, designed to move people into housing regardless of their situation. This is usually more families than individuals. The goal of rapid rehousing is to get the family in one place rather than transitional housing.
Besides operating the men’s shelter and Arthur Cassell transitional house, Open Door Ministries offers other programs.
“Most people only think of the shelter and the soup kitchen,” Wagner said. All the programs revolve around getting people out of homelessness.
Open Door has a job-training program that works in partnership with GTCC. GTCC does classes that teach the soft skills of having a job that gives confidence to go get a job.
Open Door Ministries also provides emergency assistance to help with rent and utilities and has a program to find permanent housing for disabled people.
Food boxes are also available.
The Father’s Table provides three meals a day to anyone who needs a meal. No questions asked, no requirements.
Key and Wagner both said that homelessness can happen to anyone.
“This is where a lot of people have started over,” Key said. Most people find success after going through the shelter and other Open Door programs, he said.
Unfortunately, he said, the need for the shelter services are not decreasing. When a space opens up, it fills back up with someone else needing help, he said.
But as long as there is a need, Open Door Ministries is there to help.
“What keeps you going is that you are able to help people make changes in their life,” Key said.