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Date published: 1/5/2013
Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
ORLANDO, Fla.--Take equal parts Dr. Phil and Mother Teresa, stir in a youth tainted by dysfunction, drugs and living on the streets, and you have the man behind one of the fastest-growing, most successful homeless programs in Central Florida.
Pastor Scott Billue--a high-speed, tough-love 50-year-old--is founder of the
Sprawled behind the Church of Christ of West Orange, the operation began as a freeze shelter where those who lived in the woods could seek refuge from the nighttime cold. Now it's a full-time operation with 1,500 clients.
At Matthew's Hope, the homeless can get groceries, clothing, medical and mental health care and eye exams. They also can tend an organic garden and get help finding jobs.
Most unusual, though, is the ministry's detailed accountability system that allows those who do work there to earn "pastor bucks" that are exchanged for supplies. A sleeping bag, for instance, is 20 pastor bucks. A new bicycle with a lock and a bike light? Two hundred. Lunch with the pastor himself at a nice restaurant? Forty--and, buyers say, a bargain.
After all, Billue himself earns no salary.
"I spent nights crying and crying and wondering why people turned their back on me," recalled Michael Russ, a 51-year-old Army veteran who worked for the city of Apopka, Fla., before losing his job, his wife and his home. "Then I found this place. I love coming here. I love working here. Pastor Scott really cares about you. They all care about you. And working gives you the feeling that you have a job again, you know? It makes you feel like somebody."
Tina White, now 52 and living in Alabama with her husband, Drew, agrees. The couple came to Matthew's Hope soon after it opened, when they were staying in a half-finished home without functional plumbing or electricity. At the time, Drew, who had worked in construction, couldn't find odd jobs to keep them afloat.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To learn more about volunteering or donating to Matthew's Hope, go to matthewshopeministries.org