In the winter, when temperatures drop below 35 degrees, Brenda Knight stays with the homeless. She provides pallets for their beds.
The community is likely familiar with the Cross Shelter Project. Brenda Knight has served as managing director for the last five years.
She is the founder and president of Castle Ministries, which is a 501c3 organization first started in Lexingon, Ky., in 2013.
Knight and son, Kevin, came to Shelbyville as missionaries from Georgia. “I’ve been called to full time ministry. The Lord started dealing with me, in 2016, when we lived in Gwinnett County, Georgia [a suburb of Atlanta.]
She reveals that her son gets a small stipend, because he is a young man and needs a phone and insurance dollars for a car. Knight said she’s considered to be disabled, because she is visually impaired.
“We basically serve The Lord,” said Knight. “We do it as a ministry.”
She started ministering to the homeless all across downtown Atlanta. “We were starting to work with the homeless in Georgia. I actually moved out of my house in Georgia . . . so that I could bring more people into my personal home. That’s when The Lord led me to Shelbyville.”
An old Vacation Bible School friend introduced her, she said, to Billie Crowell of Shelbyville. Knight’s son was taking piano lessons from Crowell.
That’s when Knight met the former Cross Shelter folks. She stayed.
“I think when God calls you to do something, He just kind of prepares you. But the best way to learn is to just get right in there.”
Many people know she’s pretty tenacious about her homeless ministry. She’s on a mission.
The petite missionary knows that working in homeless ministry is not for the faint of heart. But she believes her program has its fair share of successes; her maintenance man, a veteran, came from the 118 Hickory Drive house.
“I just didn’t want everything that Kevin and I had worked to build over at the Cross Shelter to just shut down,” she said. “There’s usually about 100 to 120 people going through that house a year. It’s a tremendous ministry for this community. We’ve already . . . transitioned people to the housing authority. Not everybody transitions out successfully, but our goal is that everybody leaves better than they came in.”
She helps the homeless try to meet their personal goals. She even helps those in need with driving tests.
Some people need glasses; they can’t even see to do jobs. She’s worked with dentists to improve their dental health.
The median age is 45-50 in local homeless camps, she advised. She is able to help many establish their identification, which is essential to get jobs. She finds herself these days doing a lot of groundwork-licenses, identifications, job applications, etc.
Still, it remains a Godly mission, she said.
Knight admits people have a heard time breaking addictions. “Occasionally, they want to drink.”
Sometimes she has to start all over with those folks.
Still, Knight is adamant that she continues to run a sober transition house. She stands firm in that commitment. She had the opportunity to come to the Cross Shelter and see its operation. Upon the departure of the house manager, she volunteered. “I volunteered . . . didn’t dream I’d be there that long.”
Knight said that Castle Ministries has been behind the scenes, helping the Cross Shelter since June of 2017. The 116 Hickory Drive house, the main house on the corner, has always been up for sale as a commercial property, said Knight. A local realtor informed Cross Shelter that the property was under contract; they asked them to remove all residents.
She said last December, they stopped taking in guests; they were basically shut down at the end of December. “They donated everything in the contents of the house to Castle Ministries. Now, we’re registered at the Secretary of State’s office as Castle Ministries of TN. Because there is another Castle Ministries in Tennessee . . . Strawberry Plains, Tennessee.”
She believes through Divine Intervention, the shelter continues on Hickory Drive. Her calling continues to help the homeless.
Knight re-opened the transitional shelter on April 1 as The Open Hands Shelter, with the main office located at 206 Madison St.
“As president of Castle Ministries, I have a long history working with poor and needy people.”
She helps with financial assistance, Biblical counseling and prayer, just to name a few tasks.
“I waited until 2019 to register here in the state of Tennessee to make sure The Lord wanted me to remain serving the kingdom here.”
She officially opened the Madison Street location to use during the winter months as a warming station for the homeless. Of course she’s dealt with COVID-19, like everyone else.
She recently held a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting for the Lay It Up Thrift Store at 206 Madison. There’s always a purpose behind her mission.
“All the proceeds go into a benevolence fund. So when people come into Castle Ministries, asking for assistance . . . proceeds of sales go back into the community. We were doing actually that, before we took on the shelter.”
Cross Shelter was being supported by churches and individuals, she said. She needs continued financial support, she said, to keep the ministry, now Open Hands Shelter, going.
“Cross Shelter mainly had the one house. We did rent the house next door as a 3/4 house. I am renting the house next door as our men’s shelter. I have separated them. So the 116 [Hickory Drive] is the women’s shelter and the 118 is the men’s shelter. Even if the property closes on the 116 house, we will still keep the men’s shelter there. We will just have to relocate another property for the women’s shelter. We’re just going to stay there and use that property for as long as possible.”
Open Hands Shelter, she explains, is a little different to some, because it is a transitional housing program for the homeless. “It’s not just a shelter, shelter, we can’t take in all the homeless.”
Men and women (with children) who want to kick their addictions may find help at Open Hands Shelter.
Brenda believes in the Bible, especially in the scripture which says if people “don’t work, they don’t eat.”
Naturally she’s been approached at the thrift store by homeless camping at the vacant Rite Aid store next door. Most just want money, but don’t want to take advantage of the transitional house.
The petite missionary stays strong in her mission.
“So, there is a line . . . . I want to help them, but if they’re not helping themselves . . . a lot of them are just over there, asking for money, buying vodka and drinking all day.”
he’s been a witness that the homeless that can either work, or use funds from other sources, such as disability, to transition to their own housing. If clients are disabled, they must still be able to care for themselves, according to Knight.
Does BC have a homeless issue?
She believes every town has some kind of homeless problem. But even she realizes in her ministry that much of the help received has to fall upon the individual.
“You can only help people, as much as they want to be helped. The problem is, people want to be helped on their terms. They don’t want to be helped on our terms—you go to work and we will help you. Those types . . . do have drug or alcohol issues.”
There are professional services greatly needed within the homeless community. She’s seeing mental health and behavioral issues within the local homeless camps.
Many do not have good hygiene, which causes issues when they try to get employment, she explained.
“There are issues, when you don’t have a place for people who have mental health issues . . . addiction issues.”
And then there’s the housing market, which Knight believes has locally really changed since she came here 5 years ago. “It’s really getting hard to find places to transition them to. The apartments have gone sky-high.”
If she can get grant dollars, she said there’s the possibility of opening “tiny homes.” As for Habitat, she said many clients aren’t staying long enough with an employer, so that becomes an issue too.
What about volunteers?
“We definitely need volunteers—to do a variety of different things. There is a volunteer form.” Knight advised that people can choose their ministry from life skills to working in thrift store.
Sadly, many clients have been kicked out of public housing for various reasons. So she could use volunteers especially because she has to help many start over. Those volunteers are needed to help teach time management and cleanliness.
Currently, she has no paid staff. “I am working on trying to get some grant funding, so I can hire some staff. Because basically, we’re still volunteer-run still.”
She has a secretary-treasurer and some folks volunteer at the thrift store; her dream is paid staff. She said she’s working with the folks at Community Development on some grants.
She said sadly, there isn’t much support from churches for the Open Hands Shelter. She reminds that the Lay It Up Thrift Store is based on Matthew 6:19-21. (Re: treasures in heaven.)
“I’ll be honest. For Shelbyville to have over 116 plus churches and most of those buildings to sit empty during the week, not a single church opened their buildings as a night shelter.”
So she had to get people to Murfreesboro. After a while of that, she opened the night shelter.
“I don’t know if people are scared, but Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with you.’”
She pleads with Bedford County to help those in need. She advises the workers are few and she’s stretching out financial donations as far as possible.
But, there are a lot of people right now to serve in this community.
Drop donations to Open Hands Shelter at 116 Hickory Drive or mail to P.O. Box 24, Shelbyville TN. 37162. Donations can also be given by PayPal on the website at www.castleministries.net.