Doc's House serves as more than just a shelter for homeless

Jan. 14, 2011 at 6 p.m.
Updated Jan. 13, 2011 at 7:14 p.m.

Charles Teske, 60, watches television at the dorm of the Victoria Salvation Army shelter after a day's labor. Teske plans to stay only three nights at the shelter on his way to Brownsville for the winter. "It is nice to have a place to get away from the bad weather,"  Teske said.

Charles Teske, 60, watches television at the dorm of the Victoria Salvation Army shelter after a day's labor. Teske plans to stay only three nights at the shelter on his way to Brownsville for the winter. "It is nice to have a place to get away from the bad weather," Teske said.

Tough love.

That is the mindset Robert "Doc" Bartlett has when it comes to running the Salvation Army's homeless shelter at 1302 N. Louis St.

"This is not a place where you do what you want," said 58-year-old Bartlett, who has worked as the shelter's director since September 2004. "Once you have rules, you have to enforce them, and you can't be wishy-washy about it."

It is a strategy that has apparently worked.

By all accounts, Bartlett's no-nonsense attitude has helped turn the shelter into more than just a place to lay one's head.

"Under Doc's direction, the shelter has moved in a forward position," said Maj. Ernest Lozano, the Salvation Army's commanding officer since 2006.

Bartlett's feat, however, was not one that was achieved overnight.

Upon his arrival, Bartlett said he was thrown head first into the job and all the problems that came along with it.

"The captain at the time told me I needed to get some rules, policies and procedures for the shelter together. Then he handed me a stack of paperwork," said Bartlett. "There was nothing here to motivate these people to go find work. Not to say some individuals were not trying to find work, but for the most part, it was not that way.

He added, "The general conception was this was just a place to take a bath, lay down and get a hot meal."

After devising a plan to implement existing Salvation Army programs as well as coming up with a list of basic, yet strict house rules of his own, many of which were adopted from his days serving in the Navy, Bartlett said he assembled the 26 residents staying at the shelter at that time and laid down the law.

"The moment I started, I told them, 'There's a new sheriff in town. This is how it's going to be. There's not going to be any kicking and screaming. If you don't think you can do it, the door works both ways,'" said Bartlett. "Six left then and there. That was Tuesday."

By that following Monday, Bartlett said, he was down to 11 residents.

Shelter resident Noel Richard, who has lived at the shelter since July 2009, said he has no problem abiding by the rules in order to have a roof over his head, even if that means doing chores after work.

"I enjoy it. I take my job seriously," said 58-year-old Richard, who works as a trustee and as the laundry supervisor. "As long as I live here, it's my house."

"It took another three to six months before more new residents began to trickle back in," said Bartlett, who said the shelter can hold up to 26 men, but it averages 12 at a time.

Those residents who did stay at the shelter after Bartlett's takeover and who abided by the rules, fell into either the temporary or transitional housing programs, which are organizational-wide programs.

The temporary housing program is for people who are just passing through, but the transitional program consists of people who are employed or actively seeking employment but remain homeless.

"I get such talented people through here - plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics, welders," said Bartlett. "It's not for the fact that they're not trying. It's just hard for them to get on their feet."

Bartlett has a quote by Abraham Lincoln, "You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves," posted on the shelter's main bulletin board as an inspiration to the residents to constantly seek employment despite how many rejections they may receive.

All but two transitional housing participants are employed, either full-time or through Labor Ready, a day labor group.

People in the transitional program are linked with other social service organizations that, in turn, help residents with finding employment, locating permanent housing and even opening up a savings account and learning how to better manage money.

"I could be sleeping under the stars. This shelter has given me a chance to work and put money aside so I can get another place," said 45-year-old Rickey Cottrell, who has been at the shelter since May.

Others are noticing the success.

"Anyone he has referred to us for our Gateway program has been successful," said Jim Welvaert, Homeless Prevention Program director for Mid-Coast Family Services.

Shelter residents like Doug Ofstad, who has lived in numerous shelters nationwide over the years, appreciate the shelter's overhaul.

"Some of the other shelters are pretty bad. They don't really care about you, and the food they feed you, I wouldn't slop my hog with," said 56-year-old Ofstad, who has been at the shelter since 2008.

Ofstad, who is a recovering drug addict, said he is also pleased with the absence of drugs, which are commonplace in many other shelters.

The Salvation Army's District office agrees Bartlett has turned the shelter around for the better.

"The Salvation Army is very pleased with the progress he has made in Victoria," said Philip Burn, senior public and media relations director for the Salvation Army of Texas. "There are plans to expand the shelter in order to meet the growing need in Victoria."

The shelter's future plans will include opening up to women as well as a major building renovation.



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