GREENSBURG – The Transitional Living Center at 310 S. East Street has seen some challenging times.
Changes in leadership, rumors and other factors have sometimes cast a less than favorable light on the not-for-profit shelter since the Daily News first reported on it in 2014.
After seemingly endless difficulties finding funding to purchase what was once an administration building for St. Mary's parish, original board members Ernie Bailey and Oris Reese, along with a few volunteers and many willing hearts, managed to open the doors on March 23, 2015.
Originally, according to an article in the Daily News from April 2015, the Agape Center was housed at what was to become the Transitional Living Center. With Jose Rivera as its first executive director, the future looked bright.
With his career taking a different direction, Rivera moved on. Funding issues, among other things, bogged down the organization, making its message and direction unclear.
With church support flagging and a new director hired, the Agape Center saw its chance to strike out on its own in late 2018, severing ties with TLC.
Brad Dairl, Rivera's replacement as executive director, stepped down in early 2019.
It's been a rough ride for everyone believing in the need for a transitional center – somewhere to give the disenfranchised a place to start over – in Greensburg.
But it seems, at last, the Greensburg Transitional Living Center is turning a corner.
"I've been wanting to get into some kind of position where I could help people struggling with addiction, and I heard about Brad stepping down, so I went to a board meeting, told them about me, where I've been, and they hired me right then," said Billy Austin, TLC's new executive director.
It's easy to see why the TLC board is giving Austin the reigns. Young, energetic and well spoken, he's excited to be there and excited to show people what's going on.
Recovering from addiction himself and out of prison for almost two years now, his goal is to be at the TLC full-time. Running his own business to support himself, his goals are clear.
"I need to be here 24/7. I used to be the GM for KFC full-time, but I stepped down for this," he said. "My goal is to get this place back to being financially OK, be here full-time, and get some real 'e-entry going on in here."
Re-entry, a term familiar with many in the human services world, means "finding a way to re-enter the world, find a job, re-establish those things necessary for independent successful adult life after a life-shattering event: a prison stay, a life-changing addiction, etc. The TLC's goal for many years has been to help men and women by supporting them with food and shelter while they re-establish their lives. Thus far, re-entry for women has been successful for the Speranza House in Greensburg, and few others.
"That's what they need. They're homeless, they're coming in with nothing. We need to get a few computers for them to search the internet, that's vital,but we'll get there," Austin said.
"This is transitional living. In the basement are the guys who've just come in off the street. And to keep that transition idea going, after 30 days, when they're doing what they should and making some progress, they shouldn't have to be down in the basement with the others. So, they'll move up to second floor where they'll have their own room. But as long as they keep getting better, closer to getting back out into the world, we'll keep helping them," he continued.
The Transitional Living Center's goal since its inception has been to hire a male/female management team, ideally a married couple.
"The apartment here is being redecorated, and I and my fiancee', Chelsea Lewis, plan to live in it. She will take care of the women and I'll take care of the men," Austin said.
The basement floor consists of a large room with multiple beds.
"It used to have all these dividers in it. I hate those so I got rid of them. But this is where the guys stay when they first come in off the streets," he explained.
The room was obviously lived in, but it was clean.
Also on the basement floor is a small living area with living furniture, couches and a few easy chairs, a television and a small refrigerator.
"This room used to have carpeting, but when I got here we removed it all. That is the worst idea to have carpeting in this kind of room, it's hard to keep clean and smelling good, so it's gone," he said.
The HVAC system is also on the basement floor.
"We're really hurting for a new furnace. Stier Heating and Cooling have rewired it to keep it going, but it's not going to last long," Austin said. "It's really sad, but with all the trouble that's gone on here, a lot of donors and churches backed out of supporting us. I don't blame them. Who would want to sink their money into a drug infested pit?"
On the second floor is a chapel.
"The board wants this center to be Christ-led, and so when people come in the first thing they see is the chapel. We are starting to have prayer services here, we're getting back into a lot of good things," he said.
Pointing to a series of neatly run and secured cabling at the ceiling level, he explained, "That's our new camera system. It runs through the entire building and it's hooked to the internet so I can check it at any time from my phone. These guys know that I do check it from time to time, too," he said, laughing.
Austin's office, as well as single occupancy bedrooms, fill out the balance of the second floor. New coats of paint are on the walls of all the bedrooms, and with any existing carpeting now gone, the rooms are bright and smell clean.
"We've put a lot of work into this floor lately. They needed to be clean and they've got to stay that way. These guys know what they have to do. But when I first got here, I found over 20 boxes of Sudafed, so I called the police to come pick it up. I'm fair, but these guys know that it they screw up I'll kick them out. So things are better now," he said. "I know there's been a lot go on here, I know a lot of words have been exchanged and I know there's some bad blood between us and some other organizations, but I'm working really hard to make sure that everyone sees me as transparent. To take care of this shelter and see it succeed and win back the trust of Greensburg, that's my ultimate goal."
Aside from the obvious rules that must be in place to protect the property and the current residents, Austin admits that some of the rules have been changed since Rivera was in charge.
"He made sure they were in by a certain time at night and wouldn't let them go back out, but these guys are human beings. If they want to smoke, I let them, but I make sure the doors are locked afterward. They used to take all their scissors, their fingernail clippers, from them, but we're not a jail. This isn't a prison. These are human beings and they need to be treated as such," Austin said.
Austin is proud to show his financial records to anyone concerned. They show a definite upward trend since he started, managing to collect rent from the two apartments above the now closed Transitional Living Center Thrift Store.
"We're trying to sell the Thrift Store building. We just don't need it. Occasionally we'll have a sale to get rid of some of the merchandise that's still there, and it's good to have this stuff in case someone has a fire and needs some things, but we're just done with that. My thing is recovering and addiction. That's why I'm here. And I'm here to make sure that this place gets back on track," he said.
Christie McLaughlin and the Transitional Living Center board, a not-for-profit, are positive and impressed with their new director.
"We are very fortunate to have Billy. Right now, our biggest concern is our communication with the community and with the public. I became president of the board in November, and right off the bat we decided that it was really important that everyone understand what TLC is tying to do," McLaughlin explained. "Billy is such a huge advocate for recovery, and when you meet him and hear his story ... he's truly an amazing person. ... He knows where these guys are at, he's been there himself, and he knows what they need to help them transition back into life."
The Transitional Living Center's Board of Directors consists of President Christie McLaughlin, Vice President Carmelo Velez, Secretary Pastor Ray Sweet, Treasurer Wanda Rivera, Chaplin Emily Velez, and members Linda Crawley, Oris Reece and Brandon Masters.
Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-663-3111 ext. 7011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org