Dorothy tapped her ruby slippers together three times and said it before leaving Oz, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” For Dorothy, the clicking of her heels, the thought of home, and Glenda the Good Witch’s magic wand was all it took to teleport her safely back to Kansas into the loving arms of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, but for Cullman County’s homeless population, finding “home” is not that Hollywood simple. You see, Travis Sharpe, President and Founder of Unsheltered International, does not have a magic wand or a warehouse full of ruby slippers, but what he does have is a mission to bring help and hope to the unsheltered around the world.
Travis Sharpe’s story began in 1996 when he encountered his first homeless person. He says that encounter changed the course of his life. Since that day, he has made it his life’s mission to minister to the homeless and has never looked back. Travis organized and lead the City Bus Route at Victory Baptist Church in North Augusta, SC from 1997-2001 and started and directed the Garden City Rescue Mission in Augusta, GA from 2001-2009. His desire to minister to the homeless on a global scale led to the forming of Unsheltered International in 2011 and Unsheltered International, Philippines in 2015. Since then he has ministered to street children, squatters, homeless adults in developing nations, partnered with foreign nationals in various ministry venues, worked in homeless camps and on the streets of over twenty-five US cities, lead disaster relief efforts in five states, preached revivals, and served in prison and jail ministry.
Unsheltered International’s headquarters are right here in Cullman. Their ministry to the homeless is multi-faceted and includes working directly with the homeless, helping new ministries get started, and assisting churches in reaching the homeless population in their own cities. In 2021, Unsheltered International provided $30,694.83 worth of goods and emergency services to people in need right here in Cullman. Although they serve other cities too, an alarming 72.1% of the people they minister to are from Cullman County. Data collected from Unsheltered reveals that 29.5% of Cullman’s homeless live out of their cars, 12.5% live in hotels, 19.6% live in tents, the woods, and abandoned barns, sheds, and buildings, 8.9% live with family or friends, and 19.6% of Cullman County’s homeless population are living out on the streets. While providing emergency services of temporary shelter, food, and clothing to the homeless is crucial, it is like putting a bandaid on an injury that requires major surgery. The relief is short-lived and evidence that the continuation of those provided services creates a dependency that cripples one’s dignity.
The dream for the tiny-home village was born out of a desire to be able to provide substantial assistance to the people of Cullman who are ready for a much better life. It was also born out of the fact that it is a very long and difficult journey to recover from if you have lost safe and affordable housing. The Village is a multi-phase plan a year and a half in the making. Phase one is currently under construction. The first four homes in phase one will be 14’x40′ prefabricated buildings placed on piers with a footer so they are properly secured. They will have complete kitchens and bathrooms. Guests in phase one need to be able to cook for themselves and be self-sufficient in their ability to care for themselves. The homes in phase two and three will be a little different because they will have the support of a bathhouse, kitchen, and other amenities through the community center that will be built later. The homes will be both attractive and durable and have a cottage and cabin feel.
What The Village will be: It will be an advanced supportive housing program that utilizes discipleship, education, and personal responsibility to help people reach their greatest potential. Before a guest can enter the program, there will be an extensive application and evaluation process that takes place. The Village will provide big opportunities for people who not only want them but are willing to put in the hard work to obtain them. Accepted guests will be paired with a case manager who helps them set attainable life goals tailored to the individual. Each guest will be responsible for the tiny home they live in. They will be required to clean inside and out and have other chores within the village community. An individual program that uses case management, supportive housing, education, and Christian discipleship adds dignity to the lives of the opportunity seekers and fosters positive re-entry into a functioning society.
What The Village will not be: It will not be a homeless shelter where people can check in at night and out the next day. Unsheltered International already provides emergency services in a different capacity. It is not a drug or alcohol rehab facility. The Village would be for someone who has already completed a rehab program or for people who have not had substance abuse in their lives at all. It will also not be a flop-house for people wanting a free ride. It takes hard work and dedication as well as commitment to follow the plan laid out by the case managers to maintain a spot in The Village. The Village is intended for people who possess the desire to positively change the trajectory of their life and someday become faithful Christians who are gainfully employable contributors to our community. Most villagers will stay in the program for 6-12 months.
Travis Sharpe’s home sweet home vision came to his heart in a dream. He explains that he actually fought God and did not want to pursue this dream, but now he is committed to making The Village a place of stability, serenity, and hope where disciples are made and lives are restored. The Village property is located at 7145 HWY 278 West in the Bethel community. Stop by and check out the model home and be sure to notice the craftsmanship inside and out. Unsheltered International is a faith-based non-profit organization. The development of The Village is being funded by private donations. They don’t anticipate receiving any government funding, so private grants through foundations and workplaces are always welcome. Land clearing and infrastructure work cost $175,000. Houses in phase one will cost $168,000 ($42,000 per house). The total projected cost of phase one is $343,000 with $159, 850 already raised. $183,150 is still needed to complete phase one.
Donations can be made payable to Unsheltered International and mailed to:Unsheltered InternationalPO Box 2625Cullman, AL 35056
You can also visit unsheltered.org/donate for other ways to send your contribution. On March 3rd, Unsheltered will be having their annual Live Fundraiser which is a share-a-thon type broadcast from their Facebook page as well as Youtube.
**If you are currently in need of emergency services, you can contact 256-615-6024 for help.
By Tara Meharg
*If you know of a wholesome, hometown story that needs to be told, well, I’d love to tell it. Please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org