By JESSICA WETZLER
Daily News-Record 10/5/20
The Mercy House Thrift Store is not only a place for those in need to find clothing for $1, but a major funding source for the organization’s shelter that provides a home for families without housing.
As the nonprofit organization shifts its mission to bringing affordable housing for homeless families, Mercy House announced on Sept. 26 that Timberville’s bank building would be converted into a new thrift store location, as well as house six apartments. “It’s an ideal mix for us,” Executive Director Shannon Porter said.
Porter said Mercy House has been trying to acquire market-rate apartments for awhile to provide private subsidies for those struggling to keep up with the price of housing. “We looked to acquire some property here in Harrisonburg but just simply couldn’t afford it,” he said. “This opportunity in Timberville came along and it was perfect for us, and the fact that it had a retail space seemed like a natural fit for us.” Established in 1988, Mercy House serves Harrisonburg and Winchester, as well as the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren. In 2008, Mercy House started combating poverty and homelessness in the community through its rapid rehousing program. Through the program, families are placed into market-rate housing with the focus on getting them back on their feet. Over time, however, Porter said the organization’s mission shifted from focusing on addressing the needs of people without homes to working on broader issues for the future and affordable housing. “We believe that it isn’t enough now to just intervene and give people places to stay while they are trying to figure things out,” he said. “There’s no housing for these folks to go into once they leave here.” Porter said it had been difficult for individuals with poor credit, limited income or past evictions to get back on their feet, adding that he believes there is an affordable housing crisis in the region.
“We are doing our best to try to take small steps to address it wherever we can, so acquiring property and keeping them affordable is going to be a part of our business model going forward,” he said. Timberville’s bank building is the first housing option Mercy House will have to offer, Porter said, but the organization continues to look for more buildings it could acquire. There are six apartments located in the building,
with each unit having two to three bedrooms. It is unclear when the apartments will be available as Porter said the units are occupied and Mercy House will be honor those leases. “We will continue to work with those tenants,” he said.
As far as the retail space goes, Porter said the organization is hoping to have the thrift store open for Black Friday in November, adding that he hopes Timberville residents will consider the store as a good neighbor and a good asset to the community.
By opening a location in the Rockingham County area, it further shows that Mercy House is a regional organization and lets county residents know Mercy House finds them important, Porter said.
“ We place a lot of clients in the Timberville and Broadway areas, so having that presence in that community sends a message that we are regional operation and that we are for the well-being of both Harrisonburg and Rockingham County,” he said. Revenue from the thrift store will go toward ensuring programs continue to move forward, such as the family shelter. “Having that resource available to us and that source of income is important,” Porter said.
And as Mercy House continues to look for potential properties for affordable housing, Porter said it will continue to help individuals who have been affected by the coronavirus. As of Friday, nearly $200,000 has been given in direct aid to those in need of assistance after losing income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.