The night Fifi Rose’s husband, Johnny, left her with five children, the 36-year-old mother wasn’t sure what she was going to do. It was early June, and most of her family lived in her hometown of Friars Point, Mississippi.
Rose said she didn’t want to move with her children back to her hometown because it is one of those places that fell into the cracks of poverty and has yet to find its way out. It’s a town without a doctor, health clinic, drugstore, restaurant, recreational center or library.
“It’s real hard to get out if you don’t have the mindset,” Rose said. “And you could be drawn back really easily if you’re not careful.”
Rose’s reconciliation with her husband lasted only a year. She had moved from Mississippi to Corinth with her five children in August 2014 to live with her husband in hopes of providing a better life for them.
Rose was preparing her children for life on the streets when the Wheeler House found them.
“The Wheeler House gave me an arm to grab onto, a hand to hold onto, when in my mind I knew of nothing else or no one else who could help us,” Rose said. “That was a nest for my family. That was safety.”
In July, the Wheeler House opened its doors to single mothers and their children who are facing a housing crisis. Rose’s family was one of the house’s first clients and the first family to leave earlier this month, when she finally found a three-bedroom apartment in Southeast Denton.
Located in an old printing building, the Wheeler House offers shelter for up to four families who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Health Services of North Texas and Giving HOPE Inc. are located in the house and provide assistance to families in need.
Pat Smith, executive director of Serve Denton, said in 2011 he was contacted by Jim and Jo Ann Wheeler, who told him they had just sold their business and planned to put their building on the market, but they asked if Denton Bible Church could use it.
Smith said Denton Bible purchased the building and leased it to Serve Denton for $1 a year. Serve Denton is a nonprofit, community-based organization. Its vision is to develop property projects in Denton that allow nonprofits to share a building and pay only $1 a year in rent, as a way not only to spend more money on people who need it but also to promote collaboration among nonprofit organizations.
Serve Denton raised $400,000, all through private donations, to complete the renovations needed to transform the old building into a home for families in need.
Giving HOPE, another local nonprofit agency that fights homelessness, manages the Wheeler House.
The Wheeler House is set up like an efficiency apartment, with each family assigned a bedroom with four beds and two full bathrooms and a kitchen to share. Our Daily Bread brings food twice weekly.
There is also a playroom for children as well as a playground behind the home.
Families are allowed to live at the home for up to six months with Giving HOPE paying the deposit and first three months rent for families. After three months, the nonprofit will only pay for half of the $300 rent.
“Four families isn’t a lot,” Smith said. “But it does make a difference in those people’s lives. It’s better than saying it’s just too hard to do.”
CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.