With his last few weeks winding down in a residential faith-based addiction recovery program, Michael Gatewood wasn’t sure about his next steps in life.
Should he return to his hometown in Washington state where the path to drug addiction started? No, not a great idea.
Should he leave the program upon graduation and just try his best to get a job and somehow make ends meet? Perhaps, although homelessness could be a real possibility.
Or, should he consider other possibilities to try to get his life back in order? The answer to this option was yes, thanks to a Philomath-based organization that provided a chance at a new beginning.
“I was at a point of transition in my life and didn’t know how it even looked and stepped out into this community and this group of people right here and they just swarmed me with love and support and gave me the opportunity of hope that I needed,” Gatewood said. “It’s meant the world to me and my kids.”
A 36-year-old single father, Gatewood now has a chance to work through important life issues, land on his feet and be there for his children, who are ages 6, 5 and 3. The home undoubtedly has several stories of helping others alive within its walls.
Given the name, “Morgan’s House of Hope,” its owners, through the help of volunteers, renovated the 106-year-old structure to make it into a transitional home to provide safe and healthy housing for families showing determination and fortitude after graduating from the Adult & Teen Challenge program.
College United Methodist Church volunteers got involved through its support of the organization’s men’s program at Shedd and women’s program in Eugene.
Bill Mayer, who owns the house with his wife, Gail, said the effort progressed to the point of moving on to a next phase: providing support after participants graduate.
“Number one, they need jobs when they graduate from that program,” Mayer said. “Number two, they need a place to live that they can afford. The key is when these people graduate, you don’t have them go back to their hometown because that’s where the problems are, so they need to find a place away from that.”
Mayer and local business owner Peter Finn visited the Pacific Northwest Adult and Teen Challenge’s Willamette Valley campus in Shedd, where Gatewood was going through the one-year program.
“The thing he was stressing out about was number one, he didn’t have a job and really didn’t have much in the way of leads and two, he didn’t have a place to live,” Mayer said. “What usually happens in those cases is they end up being homeless, which leads to other issues and they find themselves back in that cycle again.”
Gatewood knew that he preferred to stay in this area but didn’t know what to expect.
“Peter gave me his number and said, ‘when you get out, give me a call if you need a job’ and I didn’t know what any of that looked like and so I gave him a call,” Gatewood recalled. “And it all unfolded into this.”
Mayer said the church started to look around the community for housing possibilities. In the meantime, Finn stepped forward with a generous employment offer.
“We found a job for him, a good-paying job with Finn Construction and he’s been there for 10 months, I believe, almost a year,” Mayer said.
Gatewood has been working as a carpenter.
“He’s turned out to be a good one,” Finn said. “He’s got talented hands.”
Now that he had a job, Gatewood needed to find a place to live. An email went out to church members seeking someone to step forward to help provide shelter. And it would not only be Gatewood but a 2-year-old son.
“Immediately, somebody in our church stepped up and says, ‘hey, we’ll do that,’” Mayer said. “So, Michael had a job, Michael had a place to live with his son and it gave him a period of a few months to accumulate money to look for a place.”
Over the next couple of months, Gatewood expressed the desire to be reunited with two other children.
“So we started looking for a place where Michael could have his three kids for the first time in his life,” Mayer said. “We looked around and couldn’t really find anything. We were looking for maybe a place to build; we looked at a lot of different options.”
Then, the old house at 1920 Main St. — the one located in between the Galaxie Motel and the Human Bean — became available. It had been purchased as a rental house in 2014.
“My wife and I decided there is a way we could make this happen and through the help of the church and business members of the community, we were able to totally renovate the inside of the house,” Mayer said.
This past June, Gatewood and his children moved into the house, which had undergone 28 weeks of renovations.
“It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of commitment and I think that helped Michael see that and his family see that he had a support system here, which is what he really needed to build that confidence to move forward,” Mayer said.
Gatewood said it's all been a very humbling experience.
“Stepping out and having all this help, it’s a whole new experience for me,” Gatewood said. “Because you want to get out and stand on your own two feet and figure that all out, but it all started with Peter offering me the job.”
Mayer said things have worked out extremely well and represents what can be done to help good folks in need.
“I think it’s united a lot of us in our community to show that this is a small-town solution to a very serious problem we’re seeing in all of our communities,” Mayer said. “The combination of business support and just in the community itself, it’s come together.”
Gatewood will live in the home for up to 24 months and during his time in the residence, the group that oversees the project will lend expertise in areas such as money management and emotional support to eventually get up on his own two feet and able to secure his own residence.
“At this point, the house is subsidized for 50 percent of the market rate and that way, it gives him the ability to pay for his home and at the same time, put money away for the future,” Mayer said.
It’s only been a few months, but Gatewood eventually will develop an exit plan from the home after discovering opportunities and ironing out financial issues.
“A bigger part of it was just transitioning the kids down here and getting them here and settled,” he said. “But inevitably, yeah, I’d like to venture out from here and let this be an opportunity for somebody else and eventually build or own my own home.”
Tom Plant, who volunteers with Benton Habitat for Humanity, said it could be a possibility that he ends up with a home through that organization if he meets the criteria and becomes a client to help build his own home.
Mayer said helping people on a one-on-one basis is an advantage when it comes to the Morgan’s House of Hope program.
“We have that flexibility to take each individual person like Michael and understand his situation and not look at it as a cookie-cutter thing,” Mayer said. “We can morph things so it works for him. We don’t really have anything in stone about when it’s going to happen or what day it’s going to happen or anything like that because we want him to move in a strong position so the fallback is a very low percentage. And Michael will always have that support.”
The old home was built in 1912 and add-ons were constructed over the years. In the 1950s, John and Edna Morgan purchased the house.
According to a compiled history of the home, the Morgans had an open door policy: “Individuals down on their luck always found the ‘welcome mat’ out. From a mere out-of-state acquaintance who needed a home while attending OSU, to a good hot meal for some, to a local family whose home burned and needed quick, short-term housing, the door was always open.”
Many locals will remember the home as the spot where a 105-foot giant sequoia had been located. The tree, which had become known as the community’s Christmas tree, was cut down in 2007 during the couplet project.
But the connection from past to present can easily be found.
“When you look back a hundred years ago and you read about what this house did and opened its door for a free meal and everything — that’s the way it used to be,” Mayer said. “We took care of our own. We saw somebody in need. We stepped up and helped them. We weren’t waiting for the next person maybe to do it, but we did it ourselves. We took responsibility for our community.”
The group hosted an open house last month to celebrate the transitional home. College United Methodist Church Pastor Mike Gregor did a house blessing and various businesses, donors and volunteers that contributed were on hand, along with Gatewood and his children.
“It was all in God’s plan, I guess, you know, the way it unfolded,” Gatewood said. “Because I was floundering there for a little bit not sure what any of it looked like. I just tried to stay strong and moving forward."