Debbie Mitchell turned tragedy into special calling

By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published Nov. 19, 2011

God spoke to a local resident and moved her to create a homeless shelter for Dickson County families.

Debbie Mitchell lost her husband Bruce last year in a chemical explosion, and realized God was speaking to her through the accident.

“At that time I felt like God was telling me this is big,” recalled Mitchell, “and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what he’s talking about’… I thought because it was affecting a lot of different people.”

Just over a year later, Mitchell has spearheaded the organization of House of Hope, a homeless shelter to assist local families struggling to make ends meet.

Mitchell was inspired by God to start a homeless shelter for Dickson families after receiving $45,000 from a memorial fund established by Quad Graphics in honor of Bruce. She quickly understood the need for such a shelter while researching her calling.

Presently, 101 students enrolled in Dickson County schools are homeless – a definition that includes residing in a motel, or living with friends or family.

Dr. Vivian McCord, Dickson County Schools homeless liaison and director of federal projects, noted of the 101 homeless students 78 percent live with relatives; 11 percent live with friends; 10 percent live in a motel setting; and 1 percent are unaccompanied youth between age 16-18, whose parents abandoned them, or have no adult in their life.

The school system receives federal funding to assist homeless students and their families, and free meals, school supplies and transportation to and from school are made available.

Mitchell and fellow organizers, Misty Deason and Mindy Dotson, want to assist every member of a homeless family by providing them a setting that keeps parents and children together.

Men, women’s shelters

Walnut Street Church of Christ operates two residential homes in downtown Dickson to assist homeless men and women.

“We’re designed to be a short stay possibility for them so they can begin interviewing and getting their life back together,” said church Minister Larry Snow. “Some of them come out of addiction recovery, some of them are just people who are down on their luck and need a little help.”

The two homes, however, are divided into strictly a men’s shelter, and a shelter for women and their young children. Guests stay free of charge, and the church offers a roof over their head and pays for utilities, while the guests are expected to gain employment or arrange to provide for themselves.

Mitchell, Deason and Dotson want to provide a setting where families can remain together, and also offer them the tools, skills and assistance to re-establish their independence.

Renee Boehm, Dickson County Help Center director, testified to the county’s need to help local homeless families.

“We do have a homeless issue in our county,” explained Boehm, who’s helping Mitchell to realize House of Hope. “You’ll get a family that’ll get trapped at the motel. They’re working, but because they’re having to pay their rent there, they can’t save the money to get out of the motel. That’s considered homeless.

“Every now and then we’ll find a family that’s sleeping in a car down by a creek somewhere, have a tent popped down by the creek and that’s where they will live,” she added.

Mitchell and Boehm want to offer programs through House of Hope that extend educational and job-related tools, like attaining a GED, and offer financial and parenting classes, etc.

“We have quite a bit that we would like to be able to help them with, but when you’re doing that they have to have a safe place to stay,” explained Boehm.

Dickson Police Chief Rick Chandler noted there’s a population of homeless citizens who commune near the interstate. He explained mental illness symptoms surface in many homeless individuals, and an economic meltdown isn’t always the driving factor for homelessness.

“There is a need for some people to monitor people, make sure they get the right help they need if there are issues,” said Chandler.

Mitchell toured several homeless shelters to generate ideas and feedback for House of Hope. While touring the Nashville Rescue Mission, she learned shelters are seeing and helping individuals from segments and backgrounds they haven’t typically seen before – people who’ve lost jobs and can’t get back on their feet.

Mitchell, Deason and Dotson said their ultimate objective is to help everyone struggling, but they’re starting with families – the demographic that appears to need the most assistance locally.

Informational meetings

House of Hope organizers sponsored a meeting in September and October to gauge interest in starting the shelter, provide information and brainstorm ideas and objectives.

Their next meeting is set for Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. at the EMS building at 284 Cowan Road.

Deason explained volunteers willing to work day or night hours for the shelter; financial contributions; donations; expertise, advice and/or organizational skills are needed.

“It’s going to take the whole community to make this work,” said Mitchell. “Everybody is going to have to come together.”

Organizers are presently trying to locate a facility for the shelter, and hope to obtain a home by early 2012. They’re also seeking a nonprofit status for House of Hope.

Anyone and everyone interested in helping is encouraged to attend the Nov. 22 meeting.

For more information, contact Mitchell at 446-1108; Dotson at 740-5171; or Deason through email at

House of Hope
Meeting: Nov. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: EMS building at 284 Cowan Road
More info: call 446-1108; 740-5171; email

Homeless in need
Walnut St. Church of Christ shelters
Men: 206 E. Walnut St., Dickson ; be on the porch at 5:30 p.m.
Women: 307 E. Chestnut St., Dickson; call 734-9395