Howard helps the homeless at Beacon
Eric Howard, chaplain and operations manager at the Beacon of Hope Men’s Shelter, has helped more than 700 homeless Fort Dodge men with spiritual and financial advice.
“He’s very involved with everyone,” said Jesus Layja, who has been in the shelter since October,. “He wants us to move ahead in life.”
Howard talks with the men at the shelter about life and how their days are going.
“We have our talks to move along in life,” Layja said. “If you’re stressed, he’ll figure it out.”
Howard draws from his own experiences to relate to the men at Beacon of Hope.
He grew up in Chicago, where he faced abandonment issues, he said.
Howard became involved with the gangs in the area.
“At an early age I began to hang out in the street,” Howard said. “Then cocaine took me for a 20-year-long twister.”
Howard started off by selling cocaine, then eventually used the drug.
At the time, he was homeless. Howard lived in an abandoned building.
While on the streets he also attempted suicide.
“But then I got help from a mission,” Howard said. “I was trying to get out of the craziness.”
When he heard the message of the gospel, he knew everything was going to be OK, he said.
“Something had changed,” he said. “These people loved me and cared for me.”
He began ministering in Phoenix, Ariz., after getting support from a mission.
Now he ministers at Beacon of Hope, where love is the main message to anyone who stays there.
He said what helped him was when people showed they loved him. Now he does the same for the men at the shelter.
“We don’t have councilors or alcohol programs, but we have the capacity to love them,” he said.
“I never thought I’d do this for work,” he said.
Howard listens to the men at the shelter and helps them with any problems they might have.
“I listen,” he said. “I can then speak of something I’ve been through.”
Howard said his father abandoned him when he was 2 years old.
“Now my father is back in my life,” he said.
Howard’s father contacted him after his mother passed away five years ago.
While he was on the streets, Howard’s mother still cared for him, he said.
“She loved me when I didn’t care about myself,” he said. “She never stopped praying when I was on the streets.”
Because of his experiences, Howard teaches the gospels at Beacon of Hope.
“I tell the men who come here that God loves them,” he said.
The men at the shelter don’t see Howard as a chaplain, but a man who has struggled in life, Howard said. This helps them relate to him.
“It’s always a relaxed atmosphere with Eric (Howard),” Timothy Hill, business administrator said. “I don’t think the shelter would function nearly as well as we do without him.”
Howard helped start the Beacon of Hope in 2010.
He offered words of encouragement to Steve Roe when he heard Roe was trying to start the mission.
The original plan was to open the mission in 2011, but they started by housing four men in December 2010.
Last winter was the first time the shelter had been completely full.
All 52 beds were filled over the winter.
“I can’t stamp out homelessness, but that’s my aim,” Howard said. “You do it one person at a time.”