ActivePaper Archive Welcome Home - Chattanooga, 7/26/2016

Welcome Home

facility offers care to city’s terminally ill homeless

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STAFF PHOTO BY ANGELA LEWIS FOSTER

Adrian Verdin-Venable, left, and Tracy Ritter, center, talk with Charles Cuff at Welcome Home on Monday.

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STAFF PHOTO BY ANGELA LEWIS FOSTER

Sherry Campbell, founder of Welcome Home, talks about former residents whose photos hang on the wall behind her.

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For more than a decade, a former hospice social worker watched terminally ill people die, homeless and living in abandoned buildings and in tents with no family to care for them, and she wanted to help.

With assistance from other social workers and nonprofits, Sherry Campbell quit her job to start Welcome Home, a home on South Germantown Road for people who are homeless and terminally ill.

The home has served 26 people since opening in March 2015, and it has 11 more people on its waiting list, but Campbell had little funding to care for additional clients until Monday, when the Multifamily Coalition for Affordable Housing awarded Welcome Home $25,000 for scholarships.

The donation allows Welcome Home to care for three or four more residents when space becomes available and to provide stipends for four more Americorp volunteers to help care for them, Campbell said.

The VA hospital houses some terminally ill veterans, but it’s in Murfreesboro, said Jack Zollinger, the coalition board president who presented the check Monday.

No one who lives at Welcome Home could afford the $4,000-plus a month that it takes for their care, but donations from organizations like BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, CHI Memorial Hospital and Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga allow Welcome Home to serve people with little to no income, Campbell said.

The $4,000 goes toward transportation, food, room and board, help with benefits — 24-hour care, personal items and clothes — because some residents come with only the clothes on their back, Campbell said.

Residents stay an average of 39 days when they move in. Many die there, but Campbell told the story of one woman who came to Welcome Home in April 2015 with liver failure. Doctors told the resident she had only months to live, but after less than two months at the site, she recovered and Campbell helped her move into a nearby apartment. Now, more than a year later, she comes regularly to Welcome Home to volunteer.

“Our hearts know what an impact despair and loneliness can have, not just on our mental health, but on our physical health as well,” Campbell said.

People who live at Welcome Home have to smoke outside on the balcony and they’re asked to eat together for dinner. Other than that, there are no rules, except to do no harm and help each other.

Without Welcome Home, people die homeless and alone, but because the nonprofit exists, men like 59-year-old Charles Cuff have quality care and a home.

The Vietnam War-era veteran drove commercial trucks for nearly 40 years after serving as a U.S. Marine. Every year, he had a physical as required by his job, but his liver disease wasn’t detected until he went to the hospital after throwing up blood.

Doctors told him in April this year to get his affairs in order and that he had about five to six months to live. He had to stop driving the truck because the medication he was taking prohibited him from driving.

Hospice called Campbell about Cuff while he was still in the hospital, and when he awoke, she was at his bedside.

He had a home in New Jersey, but he had no family there, and without a job, he couldn’t afford the $4,000 a year required for in-home care. So when Campbell invited him to Welcome Home, he took her offer.

Three months after moving into the house, he now calls the staff his family. He likes the place so much that he saved his money to order chocolate biscotti for all the clients and volunteers in the house. He celebrated with the group when his order came Monday.

“Out of the goodness of their heart, I mean, I never had anything like that, they took me in and made me feel welcome,” Cuff said. “If it wasn’t for this place, I would probably be living on the street homeless and helpless or possibly dead already.”

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman

at yputman@timesfreepress.com or

423-757-6431.