LAURELTON - Reports of a possible homeless shelter at the former Laurelton Center — let alone a population of thousands — are overblown and “nowhere in the realm of the factual,” said the controversial minister who runs two other similar facilities in Pennsylvania.
Nothing is final about a shelter at the former state hospital grounds in Hartley Township, Union County, Bishop Jack Wisor of the Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach Ministries said Thursday.
“I’m talking to MVI,” meaning Mountain Valley Inc., which owns the property, Wisor said. He would not comment further on the property or owner Gary Murphy and said there is no time line in place for putting a shelter on the 366 acres near Laurelton.
Union County’s Tax Assessment Office shows Mountain Valley Inc. owns the grounds, worth more than $4 million.
Statements from Wisor’s January 2014 newsletter were misconstrued, he said, noting the shelter would help thousands, not house thousands. The January 2014 newsletter was no longer on the Just for Jesus website as of Thursday.
About a year go, Wisor reached his 1,000th guest, he said.
“This idea of me bringing in 5,000 people in three months, that’s not true at all,” he said. “That’s not even reasonable.”
The 50-year-old Wisor was responding to what he called erroneous, inflamatory information about the homeless ministry he founded after he himself hit hard times, he said.
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 in Jefferson County.
Opposition quick in Union County
Media reports of troubled residents, particularly former criminals to include sex offenders, at both locations, have led to a fast-growing grassroots effort to keep Wisor from putting a shelter at the Laurelton Center property.
Concerned Citizens for Union County filled the county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, demanding action. County leaders said they are investigating their options.
Group leader Pam Hackenburg had no comment about Wisor on Thursday.
His shelters are not populated strictly with homeless criminals, Wisor said. Rather, convicts comprise about one-fourth of the population, along with homeless veterans, elderly and women and children, “people who could not make it financially,” he said.
“Instead of cherry-picking, I started to take all of them in and started to document how we could help,” he said. Sex offenders who must register under Megan’s Law are not housed in the same shelter as children, Wisor said. Also, clients are referred, he said. “We do not recruit” he said in denying reports that he picks up convicts at prisons, takes them to county assistance offices for aid and then to his shelters.
Clients “have to be referred (to the ministry) by a counselor or psychiatrist or chaplain,” he said, and they must be in what Wisor called “a rehabilitative state. They’ve already proven themselves to be ready to better their lives and move on. Anybody who is not will be placed elsewhere for a better fit.”
Wisor also said he works with offices “from all over to put these people back into society.” Referrals have come from various law enforcement agencies, community mental health/mental retardation units and “any and all other homeless agencies,” he said.
Among places that have referred clients to him, Wisor said, is Service Access & Management Inc., a human services clearing house. Phone calls seeking comment from the Service Access & Management office in DuBois were not returned by deadline Thursday.
Just for Jesus is a 501(c)(3) organization that runs on private donations, Wisor said, adding he doesn’t know how much money per year the ministry brings in.
“When it comes to finances, a team that takes care of all that,” he said. “I steer away from that part of it. They will advise me.” Just for Jesus has an all-volunteer staff of eight to 10 people, he said.
Personally, Wisor said he’s intrigued with the history of the Laurelton property.
“Just the beauty of the buildings, I appreciate the architecture,” he said of the former state hospital that has some buildings nearing 100 years old. The property “could be used really to help humanity in a great way,” but not confirming or elaborating on any plans.
“Any time that you help the least of these, there is a fear factor,” Wisor said when asked why such controversy forms around his shelters. “A lot of people just don’t understand that whole aspect of it, and (understanding) takes time.”