By Anitra Parmele
The Good News
A Simple Beginning
It was Thanksgiving in tent city where the homeless gathered to be fed. Fred Scarbrough remembers catching sight of a young woman as her boyfriend ferried plates of the turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing to her where she sat holding her six month old baby. “All of our guests were single men except for this one mother right in the middle of the room. Before I knew it, I was walking over to her and grabbing a chair next to her. Out of my mouth came, ‘How are you doing?’ and then, ‘What’s your housing situation like?’ She couldn’t even meet my eyes as she responded, ‘Not good.’ I pressed her to tell me how she had ended up here. She told me she had been sleeping on the beach when a police officer took pity on her and took her and the baby to Salvation Army. This was the second of their allowed nights and she had nowhere to go after that.”
With A Twenty and a Business Card
As Fred pressed into her hand a twenty dollar bill and the business card for the animal clinic that he owned, he had no idea the chain of events that simple act would trigger. He couldn’t have known that his connection with this single mother would form the basis for what is now recognized as one of the leading advocates in the campaign to end family homelessness in South Florida. “I told her to call me if I could help.
The next morning when I went into work, the receptionist asked me if I knew a man named Sam. He had been calling every fifteen minutes since the office opened,” Fred shares. “They had been walking in circles since 8 a.m. when the shelter required them to leave for the day. They had nothing- no baby food, no diapers, and no clothes to change the baby into – so we went to a 7-11 to get food and diapers and I started looking for a motel.”
Finding the Least of These
When asked how his reaching out to a single mom became Shepherd’s Way, a Life that went on to house and care for over a thousand people in the first ten years and hundreds more in the five years since then, Fred responds, “I went to church long enough to acknowledge that there was a Creator and that He had something more for me than just being a veterinarian.” Fred explains, “I had been going down to the tent city weekly to feed the homeless with my church, Christ Church. That’s around the same time that I started to pray regularly. All I kept hearing was the phrase ‘the least of these.’ The only ‘least of these’ I could think of were the people I served in the tent city.”
Fred remembers, “I started asking myself if anyone was helping the mothers and children who were on the street. I started with just this one family- one mom, one boyfriend and one baby. I told them that I would put them up in a hotel for a week if they would get jobs and come to church with me.” Once word got around, more and more of the units in the motel were taken up by Fred’s guests- usually homeless mothers and their children. “I had to turn away more than I took. I was down there (the motel) a lot getting groceries and people would come up and tell me their story.”
One Bag of Diapers at a Time
Word started to spread through Fred’s church, as well as the number of people coming to church with him – which also began to swell. The pastor of Christ Church approached him and asked if the church could help. Some people donated diapers and food while others donated the cost of couple week’s stay at the motel for a family to get on their feet. This continued for several weeks before Fred was asked if he was interested in buying a hotel. “The pastor invited a couple of businessmen to lunch. For an hour and a half they grilled me about what was going on and the people we were helping. At the end of the lunch, they each wrote a check for $75,000, money that we used as a down payment on a hotel we bought for $350,000,” he explains.
“From the beginning, we did drug testing and everyone had to get a job. After three to six months, we would take $2500 we had accumulated from their rent to get them a place of their own. Their place would be taken by another family or a single person. For the first year, everyone was a volunteer. By the time we had eleven units, we were averaging at least sixty-five people a night with a high of a hundred in those eleven units. Shepherd’s Way became known as the organization that would take the families that no one else could- the women who were pregnant or the mothers with large families or teenagers
The Work is the Witness
Fred soon realized that his Christian faith was more striking to others with whom he worked with rather than to the homeless, stating, “Most of the homeless had some knowledge of the Bible. It was my peers in the community, government and within the social agencies that asked me the most questions about my faith. Once they realized that I was the only one in the meeting not getting paid, they’d ask about my motivation. When I explained that I was doing it for God and for no other reason, many of them told me I’d burn out in six months just like all the other Christian ministries.”
That was almost fifteen years ago and Fred has welcomed the countless opportunities the years afforded him to break down the stereotypes of Christians as the success of Shepherd’s Way has served as a tangible witness of the faithfulness of God. “The past fifteen years have been a witness to the un-churched as they have watched God accomplish more than we could ever imagine. People are so enamored of what God has done,” he adds.
A Cute Idea Gets Real
When asked about what he thinks as he watches God use Shepherd’s Way as a catalyst to bring together an unprecedented collaboration between social agencies, faith communities and government, Fred responds, “From day one, my prayer has been that the churches of Broward County would come together. This was never supposed to be a single man’s vision. From the beginning I’ve told everyone that our goal was to end homelessness in Broward County. Back then, I think they thought it was a cute idea. Now I think many are convinced for the first time that it’s possible.”