Less than a month ago, Tiffany E., 38, arrived in Citrus County from another state 3,000 miles away.
She had come to Citrus County to reunite with her two children and start a new life.
“I left everything, got on a plane and came to get my kids,” she said.
Without a job or a place to live, she found a local church and told the pastor her story.
Meanwhile, The Path of Citrus County was putting the finishing touches on its newest and biggest project so far, the renovation and transformation of the former Beverly Hills motel into a 30-room addition to the rescue mission shelter.
Perfect timing for a mother and her children to find a safe, secure place to live while they rebuild their lives.
“Almost the moment we were ready, Pastor Marple (Lewis) walked in with them,” recalled DuWayne Sipper, The Path founder and executive director.
“I’m very grateful to be here,” Tiffany said. “When we came here we were barefoot, but now we have shoes. We don’t come from a good situation, but here we’re safe.”
Two years and $500,000 worth of renovations since the $2 million-plus project began, The Path now has a suitable facility to house individuals, married couples and families — “any and every configuration,” Sipper said.
Up until now, the gospel rescue mission shelter had to turn people away daily because they could primarily only take in single adults or mothers with young children — three unrelated people or one family of up to eight people per house, with only four houses.
Now, the 30-room addition has the capacity for an additional 68 people — 100 in an emergency.
Length of stay for residents is “as long as it takes,” Sipper said. The goal is a changed life.
Last week, Sipper gave the Chronicle a tour of the finished addition, which includes a counseling office, a chapel, laundry room and a cafeteria — a former restaurant.
Features of the new addition include:
- The cafeteria: With its original 1950s-style counter and counter seats and a separate dining room. Sipper said they serve “Golden Corral-style meals” — hot foods available from a steam table and cold foods/salad bar from a refrigerated station.
“People come in and eat when they want,” Sipper said.
The food comes from the community food bank, plus fresh produce grown at The Path farm.
- Chapel: Currently, the chapel is used during the week for a walk-in prayer ministry and Wednesday night Bible study, and the Rev. Stewart Jamison leads Family Fellowship church there on Sunday mornings.
- Security: 34 cameras throughout the property and a security fence with a keypad entry and a phone system that allows residents to call 911 from the rooms.
“Citrus County has never had a 24/7 emergency shelter where a deputy can drop somebody off at any hour,” Sipper said.
He said they have two rooms set up with bunk beds so that a deputy can bring someone and use the keypad on the gate to get in.
“The deputy can call the manager to say, ‘I’ve dropped someone off,’ instead of dropping them at the county line or leave them walking around the community,” Sipper said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a step closer to having a 24-hour shelter.
- Disaster relief: The Path now has plans in place to help in the event of a community emergency or disaster.
“We can have food drop-lifted in the field across the street because now we have freezers,” Sipper said. “We can set up tents in the parking lot and we have a bunch of air mattresses in a garage for people to sleep on. Ever since the ‘04 hurricanes, we’ve started preparing for emergencies.
"This is just the beginning,” Sipper said. “God wants me to build 200 more ‘Paths’ across the country. I’m already writing a plan.”
To contact the Path, call 352-527-6500.