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Decatur couple works toward creating family homeless shelter from closed nursing home

Herald & Review - 6/19/2024

Jun. 19—DECATUR — Willie Taylor and his wife, Carlotta Witherspoon-Taylor, remember visiting relatives at the former Decatur Living Center nursing home at 444 W. Harrison Ave.

The long-closed nursing care facility has 147 rooms, each with its own restroom, common areas, a commercial kitchen and laundry, wheelchair-accessible showers and five separate wings.

The couple's dream is to rehabilitate the facility into a shelter for homeless families, with classes in cooking, money management, interview and job skills training, to provide a way to help those families get back on their feet and become self-supporting.

Most shelters in the area, Witherspoon-Taylor said, serve only men, or only women with children, or women affected by domestic violence. Their vision is to serve families who are homeless, whether that's a dad with kids, grandparents or other relatives raising children, a couple and their children, or anyone who needs a place to stay; for example, a family who is homeless due to a fire or other disaster.

"I want it to be that resource, that outlet," she said. "This building is that."

The building has been vacant for about five years, she said, and there has been a significant amount of vandalism. The couple boarded up the windows to save the ones not already broken. Inside, toilets have been smashed and copper stolen, but most of the cleaning is done. What remains now is remodeling, restoring the damaged electric and plumbing, making sure heating and cooling units are repaired or new ones installed, fencing and security systems.

"We want it to quit being an eyesore in the community," she said. "They see the boards, and (people) think it's really been damaged, but it's not. We keep the boards up so they won't be busting the windows anymore. We're trying to get funding and we don't want to spend any more than we need to."

Their organization is a 501(c)3 so donations are tax-deductible, and they're working on setting up an account at a local credit union to receive those donations. They're also looking for in-kind donations of building materials such as drywall, plumbing and electrical; sinks and toilets; flooring; furniture, bedding and towels; and volunteers. To help, call (217) 519-3434 or email worldserviceent.@gmail.com.

The building includes two courtyards, one small and one larger, with gazebos where families can sit outdoors to socialize, and is adjacent to Monroe Park, where children can play. Witherspoon-Taylor said she hopes to create a library in one of the common areas, and the main reception desk will be a place where people can visit to get referrals to social services and resources.

With the rooms divided into wings, she said, they can have doors that require security codes separating the men's and women's areas. Couples with children would be in one wing; men with kids in another wing; women with kids in their own wing.

"That's where our purpose and our mission is, is to help families," she said.

"Seeing the homeless people when we drive around, on the street corners and stuff, and trying to find shelter when it's bad weather, wanting to get them out of the heat, that gave us the drive to want to help the community," Willie Taylor said. "This has been our passion for 10 or 15 years and it's really a need. Plus, my mom was here (at Manor Care) before she passed away, and that's part of the drive to get me to want to do this."

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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