JOHNSON CITY - The Haven of Mercy homeless shelter's long-closed third floor is back in business.
Brandon Marquis, an aspiring Eagle Scout, and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 131 wrapped up their monthlong work to restore the Haven's rain-damaged third-floor dorm last weekend. The project has made way for 18 to 25 beds that will nearly double the Haven's overnight capacity and increase the total number of emergency, overnight beds available to the homeless in Johnson City by about 50 percent.
Shelter Director Bill Ingram said the first of the beds were placed on the floor Wednesday and Thursday, and the shelter would be ready to begin filling them this weekend if they are needed.
"We are very appreciative," said Grant Rockley, chief administrator and chairman of the Haven's board of directors.
With help from his parents, Laurie and Mike Marquis, a Scoutmaster for more than 30 years, Brandon began planning the renovation project following a Christmas Day visit to help serve dinner at the Haven. While there, 16-year-old Brandon and his folks toured the shelter and recognized his opportunity to do some real good in the water-damaged ceilings and walls that had rendered the third-floor dorm unusable for more than a year.
In need of a service project to help him earn the Boy Scout's esteemed Eagle Scout badge, Brandon took the lead, scheduling a series of Saturday work days and calling in help.
On Feb. 3, Brandon and his parents, his fellow troop members and several of their moms and dads, along with an assortment of skilled volunteers recruited by the troop, got down to work.
Over the next four weeks, the third floor's wrecked plaster was torn out and hauled away, new ceiling tiles and drywall were hung, new paint was applied, new carpet was laid, and new ceiling fans and light fixtures were assembled and installed.
Helpers recruited by the troop included Bulla Construction and professional painters Bob Green and Tee Roy Whistine. Then there was a trio of experienced drywall men who read about the project in the newspaper, showed up to help, and made a run for additional sheet rock that they paid for out of their own pockets. And finally, there were the folks at Dominos Pizza on West Walnut Street who, after learning there was an Eagle Scout project under way at the shelter, delivered complimentary pizza for the crew.
"It's beautiful," Laurie Marquis said as she looked over the finished work. "There were lots of people who gave their time, and we appreciate them sacrificing their time for it."
She said the Haven staff was most grateful to once again be able to put the third floor to use for people in need and threw a pizza party for the Scouts to thank them.
Prior to the restoration, just more than 30 emergency, or "transient," shelter beds were available in all of Johnson City, including 22 at the Haven and 12 at the Salvation Army.
The Haven provides 10 "transitional" or long-term beds for men working their way out of homelessness at its main shelter on West Millard Street and another 12 transitional beds at its halfway house on West Watauga Avenue. The Salvation Army, the city's only other emergency homeless shelter, provides 24 transitional shelter beds for men, women and children.
An apparent shortage of overnight transient shelter beds was brought to light in a recent community forum to discuss the need for a new homeless shelter in Johnson City.