Maintaining The Shepherd’s Inn

Published 4:06 pm Thursday, November 9, 2023

Shelter has served homeless, domestic violence victims since ’97

Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent

Paul Gabinet is at ease with the visitor as they sit in the living room of his nearly 100-year-old family home on one of Elizabethton’s alphabet streets.

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The house has an old-world charm, with the interior bedecked with furnishings that speak of familial relationships, but it also serves as Gabinet’s office and a residence that has been in his family for 51 years.

The 70-year-old Gabinet is executive director of The Shepherd’s Inn, a safe house and emergency shelter for women and children. He is also choir director and moderator of the worship committee at Elizabethton First Presbyterian Church, where he is a ruling elder, and has served as moderator of the General Mission Board of Holston Presbytery, a council of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

On this day, Gabinet is apologetic as he fields phone calls while talking about The Shepherd’s Inn. He explains the First Presbyterian congregation has recently dealt with several funerals, and then there is the planning for The Shepherd’s Inn’s 22nd “Feast of Joy” fundraiser – an annual fundraiser that has been in abeyance due to COVID concerns.

“We did them annually up until the pandemic,” he says. “We haven’t done one in three years.”

The Shepherd’s Inn was founded in 1997 and had its beginning with two local law enforcement officers, Alonzo Perkins, of the Elizabethton Police Department, and James Parrish, of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office. Gabinet was invited to a meeting and, he says, “I could see they were going down a path that was not very stable,” part of which was a lack of evidence that such a shelter was needed.

“So, I offered to do a feasibility study for them, just to prove that they need this,” Gabinet says. “There was no doubt in their minds, but you know you had to put this on paper.”

Volunteers collected the data, he says. “I just kind of put it together and presented it to the mayor and people in the community.” Gabinet says the study revealed the problem of domestic violence and temporary homelessness was “beyond what I thought.” After the groundwork was laid, the shelter was opened within five months.

Gabinet served as the first director and was followed by a second, who was there “for a little over a year.” When that director left, Gabinet stepped back in, “and I’ve been doing it ever since, full time.”

SHELTER HELPERS

Gabinet is the only full-time staff member, but there are trained volunteers, who receive a stipend. “To have everything like it should be, I need at least four resident assistants, and we have two right now,” he says.

In years past, Gabinet says, it was easier to find people. “It’s a different ballgame now,” he says.

Among the staff is Carol Ann McElwee, a retired Elizabethton High School English teacher and certified grief counselor who also serves as a court advocate. Ashley Nave, a student who is working toward a master’s in social work, serves as a resident assistant, and does event planning. Like McElwee, she sometimes accompanies a domestic violence victim when seeking an order of protection from the court.

“With the order of protection, the courts really are very respectful and responsive to these things, because they’ve proven to be a handy tool for the officers,” Gabinet says, adding that a lot of times it’s just a matter of support.

“When we go into the courtroom, we don’t have signs, we don’t have name tags on, we don’t identify ourselves in any way, fashion, or form, because we want this (the shelter’s support of the victim) to be as under the table as possible, as you might imagine,” he says.

‘THEY WILL CALL US’

Helping men, women, and children caught in domestic violence or who are facing other emergency shelter situations is a symbiotic relationship between The Shepherd’s Inn and local law enforcement: local law enforcement knows who to call at the shelter, and shelter staff members know who to call in local law enforcement. “Nine-one-one knows who we are. They will call us. If they don’t get someone at the shelter right away, they will call me, personally,” he says.

And if the statistics are any indication, those referrals do come.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation classifies domestic violence offenses as “violent or aggressive behavior within the home or towards a family member, often involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner.” Domestic violence can involve offenses such as simple assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, stalking, forcible sex offenses, murder, kidnapping/abduction, non-forcible sex offenses, and human trafficking.

According to a TBI report, the Carter County Sheriff’s Office investigated 63 domestic violence cases in 2022, a nearly 91 percent increase compared to 2021 when there were 33 cases. In 2022, 78.3 percent of those cases involved simple assault, while 21.7 percent involved aggravated assault. Among the other offenses reported were forcible sex, murder, and kidnapping.

The TBI report shows Elizabethton Police Department investigated 31 domestic violence cases in 2022, a 66.3 percent decrease from 2021 when there were 92 cases. In 2022, 51.6 percent of the cases involved simple assault; 32.3 percent, aggravated assault; 12.9 percent, intimidation; and 3.2 percent stalking. Among the other offenses reported were kidnapping.

FUNDING SOURCES

The annual budget changes from year to year, Gabinet says, but has been under $100,000. According to the 2022 annual report, expenses in 2021 totaled $77,308.87, which is funded through public funds, churches, corporate contributions, fundraising, memorials, individuals, and income from an apartment.

“We have several grants that we get,” Gabinet says. “We get one from the city and one from the county.” A $12,000 Carter County grant handles the mortgage on the “safe house,” which is located elsewhere in the city, and a $12,000 grant from the City of Elizabethton goes toward operational expenses.

“We get around 3,000 occupancy days a year,” he says. “An occupancy day is one night, one bed, one person. If that person stays three nights, that would be three occupancy days. If they have two – if they have a child – and they spend three nights, that would be six occupancy days.”

Gabinet says The Shepherd’s Inn is one of the few in the area that not only serves domestic violence victims but also provides shelter to the temporary homeless, “24/7.” He gives an example where a woman gets kicked out of her apartment and has a child. “If they can go with family, then we encourage them to do that,” he says. “But what about the ones that have nowhere to go – literally?”

“We are truly 24/7,” Gabinet says. “People say, ‘What are your office hours?’ … People don’t have office hours when it comes to temporary homelessness or domestic violence.”

Breakout box
THE SHEPHERD’S INN

PHONE: 542-0180

FOUNDED: 1997

PURPOSE: To provide temporary safe housing for victims of domestic violence and others who are homeless for reasons beyond their control, in Elizabethton, Carter County, and neighboring communities; to raise the public’s awareness of domestic violence in Elizabethton and Carter County; to educate the public to the causes and prevention of domestic violence; and to provide educational advocacy and other support services to the victims of domestic violence.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Michael Hawkins, president; Kay Thomas, vice president and treasurer; Carol Ann McElwee, secretary; Larry McKinney, Krystal Harris, Julia Church, Caleb McDaniel, and Jason Shaw

ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Sgt. Alonzo Perkins, Elizabethton Police Department; Becky Street, Mabel Irwin

STAFF: Paul Gabinet, Sandra Morris, Dawn Slagle, Holly Polyhemus, and Dr. Stephen May

FUNDING: Government, churches, corporate contributions, fundraising, memorials, individuals, and income from an apartment.

Source: The Shepherd’s Inn Annual Report for 2022