Bethany church and SOUL offer homeless a warm HOM

Date Published: 
Dec. 22, 2017

Fourteen men will have a warm, safe home to wake up in on Christmas morning.

The shelter, in downtown Bethany Beach, is thanks in large part to the community and a partnership between Serving Others Under the Lord (SOUL) Ministries and House of Mercy, and the Southeast Sussex Ministerium, which allowed for SOUL to use Stone House — one of the vacant houses on the grounds of the Bethany Beach Christian Church Conference Center — as a shelter for those who would otherwise be out in the cold.

Eric Snyder of SOUL, who lives at the home with the men during shelter season, said the partnership has been wonderful, giving many men who do not have housing the opportunity to have a place to stay from mid-November to mid-March.

“We’ve had one local guy who just needed a leg up. He worked for a local handyman… While he was living here, he found a place for $250 a month, so he’s already up and left,” said Snyder. “There’s another local guy who had marriage problems. He ended up in foreclosure and came to us. They range in age and the ‘why.’ The youngest guy we have is 22, and the oldest we have is over 60.

“In the first season, it was a lot of drinking in the woods,” Snyder acknowledged. “The face of homelessness has changed drastically since we started. Before, everyone was between 40 and 62. There was a lot of drinking, a lot off divorce, a lot of recession fallout… Now, we’re seeing a lot more pain.”

A typical day at the shelter starts off with breakfast and lots of coffee, Snyder described with a laugh. Then the whole group heads to SOUL’s most recent endeavor — House of Mercy (HOM), a thrift store just outside of Selbyville, which also serves as a place of worship and future site of a community center. There, they connect with Snyder’s wife, Cherith, who is the other half of SOUL’s leadership.

“The guys really like giving back,” said Snyder of the residents helping out at HOM during the day. “They don’t want a free ride. The guys who don’t want to change won’t even go into the Code Purples,” he noted of the statewide group of cold-weather shelters. “The guys who want to change don’t want a free ride… They’re thrilled to be helping us at the thrift store.”

After the workday is completed, they all pile back into SOUL’s 15-person passenger van and head back to the house in Bethany.

“The Ministerium — the collection of churches in southeastern Sussex — have come together and cook meals,” said Snyder. “That’s been a huge blessing this year. So far, we’ve seen actual restaurants bringing us dinner.

“Right after dinner, we have devotional time — like a spiritual group-therapy. Everything we do is Jesus-based… I know we can teach them hope, but if they don’t know where that hope comes from, it’s very hard to latch onto when you’re feeling that helpless.”

Following dinner, all those in the house complete their “responsibilities.”

“We don’t call them ‘chores,’ because they’re not 5. But, when you live in a house with 14 guys, you’re going to make a mess and you’re going to get sick,” said Snyder, noting they sweep, mop and sanitize the house. “After that, they’re free to do whatever they want.

“The more you treat someone like an adult, the more you treat someone like a responsible member of society, the more they’re going to grow into that. We raise them up. We’re just 15 guys living in a beach house. And if they have that mentality, it’s such an uplift from being one guy, isolated by himself, in a tent.”

The program has evolved over the years, and offers the residents help with transportation, and the ability to start over.

“We’ve evolved into a program,” said Snyder, noting they help with AA and NA counseling, as well as with getting residents, if they wish, their GED or IED.

“We’re a program, more than a shelter. The guys get it and are really latching onto it. ‘Oh, I can make myself better? Let’s do this!’ We’re not just getting them out of a tent but moving them on in life.”

Snyder said that sometimes it takes a while for residents to get out of their own way, but they eventually get there.

In the near future, Snyder said he hopes to expand HOM, so that everything SOUL works on can be in one central location.

“We want this all in one place. We want to be able to house where we have the day center, where we have the church, where we have the thrift store. We really need the all-day thing in one place.”

This year’s Christmas at the house may be the best so far, said Snyder, noting that his teenage daughters and wife will be joining them at the house on Christmas Eve and stay through Christmas Day.

“Every year, we have a tree and have gotten them stockings with little gifts. One year, Santa Claus gave us remote-control cars… This year, our girls are joining us,” he said, noting they helped decorate the Christmas trees at the Bethany house.

“We’ll spend Christmas Eve at HOM. We’ll have finger-food, buffet food set up, with turkey. We’ll have a midnight service where we sing Christmas carols. Then we’ll wake up and have Christmas at the house with our whole family.”

Snyder said that, since SOUL’s inception in 2013, the community has embraced its efforts and mission.

“The community has been amazing. It seems the more we grow, the more this community gets onboard. The further we reach, the further people ask, ‘Oh, what can I do?’ It’s truly been amazing — especially Community Lutheran Church, which has been like our right arm,” he said.

“They’re doing gifts. A few other organizations and churches are doing gifts. We may see a Christmas hook-up like we’ve never seen,” Snyder said. “They’ll probably get a lot of chess sets, which is awesome. We play a lot of chess around here. It’s awesome, because it makes you think, it gets you out of your head, and it forces you to talk to somebody. I’m sure there’ll be lots of gloves, flashlights and other necessities of life.”

An overarching theme of the last nearly five years, Snyder said, is that “God provides” — which is what took the Snyders from serving soup out of a van to where they are today.

“When you think about it, we had no idea what we were doing, we had no budget. We just grabbed the soup made that day, the towels and toiletries out of our own closets, and just ran. God showed us all of this… We went from asking a question to being the answer.”

Throughout the years, and still today, so many individuals, businesses and organizations have given their support to SOUL through donations of time, money, items and food. Snyder said that, without the constant support, SOUL — and those whose lives they’ve touched over the years — would not be where they are today.

“The beauty that we’re in Bethany… It’s so beautiful to know that one of the richest communities is helping some of the least… It’s so beautiful to see, when you have towns that aren’t quite Bethany go ‘Not in my back yard,’ to have Bethany say, ‘Come put it in our front yard.’ It’s truly amazing the heart that this community has.”

Those looking to support SOUL may contact Cherith Snyder at (302) 632-4289. SOUL Ministries may also be found on Facebook, at House of Mercy is located at 36674 DuPont Highway, north of Selbyville, on the southbound side of Route 113.