From Dutchtown’s Melvin Theatre, Restoration House STL Helps Homeless Young Adults
Timothy Needham’s interest in helping homeless people traces back to his work as a youth pastor in Fenton well over a decade ago, leading young people in service projects.
“The first time I was very scared. I had a lot of stereotypes as to what it meant to be homeless, a lot of incorrect stereotypes,” he recalled. “It really was a gut check for me that the problem wasn’t them — the problem was actually me and my perception of people.”
Now Needham has made helping homeless people his mission. His experience as a youth pastor eventually led him to work for a street outreach program at Epworth Children and Family Services. There, he noticed a significant gap in services for people in need after they outgrow programs aimed at young people.
"As soon as these young people hit the age of 22, reality sinks in for them and they may not be prepared with all the adequate resources that they need to be successful,” Needham said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.
“We see ourselves as a bridge builder to other resources, so that when they hit that 22nd birthday, if they haven't figured out everything they need to in order to be successful, we can absorb that blow for them and be a cushion and be an anchor for them. So they don't feel like they've fallen off the face of the Earth."
In 2016, Needham founded Restoration House STL to help provide age-appropriate mentoring and services for young adults 18 to 25. In June, the faith-based nonprofit opened its first “success center,” also called “the Rock,” in Dutchtown’s historic Melvin Theatre. The project is in partnership with Novation Church, which owns the property.
So far, Needham said, dozens of young adults have gained access to emergency housing, warm meals, assistance with receiving identification documents, laundry services, caseworkers and more.
“What we have been surprised to find is that, in that neighborhood, there are many youth who are outright homeless,” he said. “So there's that category of at-risk youth, but there's also just outright street homeless, and the bulk of the young people that we're coming across right now are actually street homeless. They are sleeping in vacant houses when they're not with us.”
The Rock hopes to meet their needs, whatever they are.
“With hot weather like this, they can come in and just take a nap and rest and get cool,” Needham explained. “But we also have caseworkers there who can meet their basic needs right then and there and if they desire, start working on some things that will help them progress to where they want to be.”
Restoration House STL plans to scale up and designate future success centers in St. Ann, East St. Louis and north St. Louis. By keeping each center open a few days a week, Needham hopes a small staff can make a big difference in multiple parts of town.
Needham said that connecting each person with a church can help get them on the right track.
“Once we can get them stably housed, we're going to try to find a church within that community of wherever they are, and get them linked to that church so that they can have a long-term support system,” he said.
Evangelical Christianity inspired Restoration House STL’s mission. But Needham reiterated that the organization does not require the people it serves to practice Christianity.
“We invite the opportunity if they are interested,” he said. “But if they are not, then we do not push it. It's just as important for us to let them know that they're loved unconditionally, whether they believe in our faith values or something different.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.