The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 13, 2014

2 from Valley putting faith in Laurelton plan

SUNBURY — For all his detractors, Jack Wisor has those who believe in his mission of providing shelter for ex-convicts who would otherwise be homeless.

The founder of the Just for Jesus Homeless Outreach Ministry has been the target of public outcry since he announced his interest in creating a homeless shelter at the former Laurelton Center in Hartley Township.

Controversy over his two other shelters in Jefferson County — one which houses about 35 Megan’s Law offenders — has stoked fear among Valley residents of his creating such a facility in Union County.

Lewisburg residents David Young and the Rev. Walter Everett, a retired minister, are not among those Valley residents.

“I hope when Jesus returns to Earth He comes back as a dirty homeless former offender and that He knocks on the door of area churches, mosques and synagogues and says, Please help me, I am hungry, cold. I just got of prison. I have no place to go,” Young said. “I do not know what most religious leaders answering the door will say or do. I do know what Bishop Wisor will say and do.”

Just for Jesus is the largest faith-based homeless ministry in Pennsylvania, Wisor said, having helped about 1,000 people over the 11 years the shelters have been in place in Brockway and Brookville.

“When someone is in need or gets out of prison, having a place to go not only is important. It keeps that person from reoffending,” Everett said. “It lets them have another chance at life. We need to give these people a chance.”

Which, Wisor says, is exactly what he does.

“I want to be the spear in the stake when it comes to homelessness,” Wisor said Friday while visiting The Daily Item.

“We’re seeing a lot of people that just can’t plug into society. They’re not criminals. They’re not inmates. They’re just people who can’t make it.”

Among them are people ages 19 to 34, veterans and the elderly.

“That’s who’s getting put behind,” he said.

Wisor provided The Daily Item with a list of about 10 main supporters, and people and agencies that refer the homeless to his ministry.

Among those references are treatment coordinator Grace Franks and correctional services director J. Allen Nesbitt, both with the Division of Corrections in Luzerne County. Neither could be reached for comment by deadline, but Wisor provided a Dec. 9, 2013, letter the two wrote attesting to how Just for Jesus has assisted Luzerne County Criminal Justice for more than two years.

The letter voices their support for “any initiatives to expanding” the ministry, calling it “a great asset and resource to the Luzerne County Criminal Justice System.”

“Where do we house sex offenders, physically impaired, mentally impaired and individuals with a criminal record?” the letter asks.

The ministry has taken in those released from jail homeless, one of Luzerne County’s biggest issues. The ministry is the only place in Pennsylvania where Luzerne County could find someone “willing to take any individual, regardless of their criminal record, physical or mental abilities.”

“Every inmate we have sent to Just for Jesus has been successful in finding their niche in the world and their new home,” the letter states. “Just for Jesus not only provides a housing opportunity for individuals, but support and guidance, which is so greatly needed when working with these difficult populations.”

For several weekends over several months, Wisor held by-invitation-only informational meetings at the Laurelton grounds. Among those who attended was Young, who wrote in a Feb. 19 letter to state Rep. Fred Keller, R-85, Kreamer, that he toured the grounds in November.

In his letter, Young encourages Keller to visit Wisor’s shelters in Brockway and Brookville, where Wisor shows the residents “acceptance, trust, respect and a belief that they can be responsible individuals and citizens. He leads by an example that engenders individual dignity and a love for Jesus.”

Young noted that participating in Wisor’s program is voluntary, and participants may leave at any time. But those who take part in Just for Jesus make a commitment that is thoroughly documented in an inch-thick binder of papers each resident signs.

The documents attest to everything from residents’ ability to care for themselves to their desire to improve their lives and follow house rules.

Wisor brought such a binder to The Daily Item, as well as two 2-inch thick books of rules for residents and guidance for counselors, including specifics of dealing with certain mental illnesses, women and children, and Megan’s Law offenders, among others.

Also with Wisor on Friday was John Robinson, who wasn’t in jail but was homeless when he came to Just for Jesus in Brookville in 2007.

“I had lost my job. I was living in my car,” Robinson said.

The state police got him out of the car, got him set up on a Community Alternatives Program, which provides medical and other services to prevent or delay institutionalization, and then brought him to Just for Jesus.

Robinson still lives at the shelter as an active volunteer, helping other residents and grateful for the ministry that he said saved him. “I’ve worked my way back,” he said.

 

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