- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (AP) - It could happen.

You could work a lifetime in the cold, hard north and save enough cash to retire to the Ozarks.

You could get settled in your Arkansas home and then become very ill.

A daughter could put her life on hold to come and care for you.

She could marry a fellow who turns out to be a loser. They could give you grandchildren.

You could die.

Your daughter’s husband could get into trouble with the law.

On his way to prison, he could leave your daughter consumed by fear, in financial ruin and hopelessly behind on mortgage or rent payments. He could leave her without transportation.

It could happen. Your daughter and the kids could become homeless.

That scenario played out at least once last year for one woman and her children who found refuge at Gamma House in Mountain Home. A different set of hard knocks played out for 120 other women - most with children - who also found refuge and counseling at the transitional shelter.

Gamma House has been serving homeless women and children for 23 years, last year on a budget of $88,000.

Ashley Clark, 26, has three sons ranging in age from 3 to 8 years.

She left an ex-husband in prison in Michigan six years ago to move to rural Izard County to care for her father, who had a malignant brain tumor.

“I’m a take-charge kind of person,” Clark told The Baxter Bulletin (http://bit.ly/OKaB0o). “I knew I didn’t want to be with my husband anymore, and someone had to take care of Dad. So, I did.”

Her father died. She married again. The marriage failed.

Clark was in rural Izard County in arrears on rent with a car her husband wrecked before leaving her. She delayed searching out alternative housing, hedging that a tax credit would be enough to replace the car and give her some hope for transportation and work.

The tax credit from the IRS was intercepted by a lender because of a student loan that was in default.

Clark and the boys landed on the doorstep at Gamma House. House Director Natalie Slusser made a place for them.

“I couldn’t make things happen for myself and the boys, and I didn’t have anyone who could help me,” Clark said. “I had heard of Gamma House. It turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened to me.

“I’ve not had anyone like Natalie and Robin (Robinson, Gamma House board member).”

The woman with the impossibly positive attitude, who runs the drive-thru window at Burger King, has her faith, a family, a place to be, a budget and plans to return to independent living very soon.

Such are the stories of how women and children become homeless and how they recover, if they recover.

It’s the kind of story Gamma House’s board of directors wants told over and over again.

The board is in search of ways to raise the mission’s profile. They make no bones about feeling the pinch in a region where competition for charity dollars is brisk.

Most recently, the Mountain Home Salvation Army Corps has undertaken development of a transition housing project to include up to eight units for families with endowment goals and building goals up to $6 million.

A homeless shelter in West Plains, Mo., is at risk of closure later this year unless funding can be found to replace a $20,000 shortfall in support from Heart of The Ozarks United Way.

“We can see ourselves in that same boat a year or two down the road,” Mike Beam, Gamma board chairman said. “This is on us. It’s time for us to make our presence known, to tell our story.”

The board will be launching an interactive website soon - www.gammahouse.org - where the public and Gamma friends can submit ideas to keep cash flowing to the mission.

“A donation of $250 is huge for us,” Beam said. “That’s the way we receive most of our funding - individual contributions from people who know what we do and a few churches.”

“Our residents aren’t the vagrant-under-the-bridge types that people may visualize in discussions of the homeless,” said Lori Gregory, member of the Gamma House Board of Directors. “They’re not lazy. Lazy’s not allowed at Gamma House.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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