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How a Homeless Couple Helped Themselves, and Are Now Helping Others

After overcoming addiction, a husband and wife in Joplin are working to make sure others who are down and out can get back on their feet
Cletus and Cassie Roland
Cletus and Cassie Roland inside the chapel of Souls Harbor/Credit: Scott Harvey

There’s a level of pride that can sometimes prevent persons in need to seek assistance, particularly those with little or no money. For Cletus and Cassie Roland, it was not only a lack of income and adequate shelter, but an appetite for alcohol they struggled to admit was a problem and work to get under control.

Even before adulthood, the two were receiving periodic aid from the local homeless shelter, where Cletus Roland says his mother brought him for food and clothing when money was down.

Married now for seven years, the Rolands say they’ve struggled with alcohol addiction for roughly the last five years. And it wasn’t until five months ago, after living in tents and bouncing around from one friend’s backyard to another, that they arrived at Souls Harbor in downtown Joplin.

This faith-based shelter has been in operation for more than 31 years, offering daily worship service and overnight lodging to dozens of homeless individuals and families.

Last fall, two days after the Rolands chose to give up alcohol cold turkey, they swallowed their pride and came to Souls Harbor. And while it wasn’t faith that brought the Rolands to the shelter, it was God who prevented them from leaving, says Cletus.

“We were told that they didn’t have room down the street because the housing manager wasn’t there,” Cletus Roland said. “And so, first thing we thought, we might as well go drink. You know, we’re stuck in the same position, no chance in just doing the same thing. Got to the corner down here and Sister Lewis had pulled up at the corner and we talked to her and she let us in. And we’ve been sober since. That’s a godsend answer if you ask me – for her to be there at the corner when we were walking down the block [and] make it to the end of the block and we’re in – it was definitely a blessing and we just ran with it,” Cletus said. 

That was the game-changing moment, the couple says. From the, “oh, here we go again” attitude to a sense of optimism.

“Every day we were drinking to kill what we were going through, you know. Her mother had passed away; my father had been in the penitentiary. Just normal everyday life things, you know, they’re intense but we were just handling them the wrong way. Alcohol wasn’t doing it and then you get sick and tired of it, and just walked away, you know. And God intervened like I say, when we came here to stay he intervened. Before we got a block away he intervened,” Cletus Roland said.

Roland did have a relationship with God prior to coming to Souls Harbor, but says he wasn’t living right. As for his wife, Cassie, that relationship did not exist. But the shelter changed that.

“Well I didn’t believe in God at first until I come here. And I’ve come to realize that he’s real, and he’s helped me out a lot,” says Cassie Roland.

The faith angle is clear at Souls Harbor. When first stepping foot inside their office along South Main Street, just a few feet to the left is the entrance to their chapel, where volunteer ministers preach nightly, and where I sat down with Cletus and Cassie to get to know them. But the faith approach wasn’t an immediate fix, says Cletus. In fact, the two tell me it was very scary at first.

 “We didn’t know what we were looking for; we didn’t know what was going to happen. And first we were like, ‘man all these rules are crazy.’ We didn’t really rebel but we didn’t agree with it all. But after we were here a couple weeks it seemed to make sense and we started doing everything we were supposed to all the time. We helped our self. And they were here to help us. All we had to do was help our self. And it’s been going fine since then,” Cletus said.

Souls Harbor’s residence facility has a total of 50 beds. And within the past few months, the program has been at capacity and using overflow space to house the homeless. Couples and families can stay together in private rooms, while single men stay in a separate men’s shelter overnight. Men are asked to search for at least five jobs a day. Guests must submit to a breathalyzer before allowed to stay for the night, and may also need to be screened for drugs if deemed necessary.

The shelter’s co-founder is Georgia Jones, who along with her husband, Art, formerly ran a rescue mission in their native Tennessee. More than three decades ago, the two were passing through Joplin on their way to the Rio Grande when her husband spotted a homeless man.

“And he began to say, ‘I wonder if there’s a [homeless] shelter in Joplin.’ Well when he said that I knew the trip to the Rio Grande was done,” Jones chuckles. “We weren’t going to go to the Rio Grande. And we didn’t.”

Instead, the couple moved to the southwest Missouri town, investing everything they had to establish Souls Harbor. To date, the shelter has served thousands of individuals and delivered millions of hot meals.  

The Rolands, says Jones, are one of the shelter’s success stories. Weeks after that first night at Souls Harbor, Cletus and Cassie began to find their comfort zone, coming to really enjoy the daily structure, worship, and family atmosphere within the shelter. Before long, the couple was offered a job at the complex, Cletus working in the kitchen and Cassie doing laundry.

A former employee of a local salvage yard, Cletus Roland says it was alcoholism that kept him from consistently holding down the job and properly budget the money he was making. But the opportunity to work for Souls Harbor and help those struggling much like he and his wife had struggled, was a blessing. He said yes to the shelter’s offer two weeks after being hired by a fast food chain.

“I feel like I’m going something good. You know, I feel good inside. And it’s not just me, it’s deeper than that. You know where I’m coming from? It’s deeper than that. It says ask and you shall receive, and we’ve received and received and received, and it’s just a blessing. And every day something new comes up, you know. Whether it’s just helping somebody… And by helping the other people around here I feel better about myself. It helps me,” Cletus said.

Like many shelters that assist the less fortunate, they work to help you help yourself, a phrase reiterated often by Cletus in our conversation.

For example, Cassie had gone nearly two years without possessing identification, and without a driver’s license or birth certificate she couldn’t get a job. But Souls Harbor helped shine a light on the problem, working with them through the red tape and even paying for the licensing fees.

The service is one of many offered at the shelter that Cletus and Cassie have used. In addition to the daily bible studies and worship services, residents can participate in classes to help boost their self-esteem, or zumba classes to help them physically. 

This structured regimen of work, worship and exercise is key for recovering addicts like the Rolands. They’re welcome to come and go as they please, but they choose to stay and assist the other residents of Souls Harbor. With steady jobs, they have money to spend, but they’re saving for a car, and eventually a modular home. Additionally, they’re working to build a stronger relationship with God, which has been significant in their recovery.

No longer are the Rolands on their own, living in a tent with no money. They now live with an extended family, so to speak.

“It’s our hope and our desire that as Christ loved us we can extend that same love back out. Which is what I believe should exist in a family-belonging attitude,” Georgia Jones said.

But not everyone who comes to Souls Harbor leaves rehabilitated. Jones says it’s hard to measure the success rate, because some homeless individuals may not directly interact with the shelter, but perhaps help themselves to a box of food or clothes left outside the facility’s entrance. Nonetheless, she wants to see the success rate climb, and improve the quantity and efficiency of Souls Harbor’s services.

Cletus Roland welcomes those in need. He and his wife, Cassie, know that by helping others, they’re helping themselves.

“We get people come in here, they’re distraught like we were… [they] don’t know what to do or nothing else, you know. You can help talk to them, you know, just give them a little bit of advice, a little bit of what we've experienced… what we’ve gained from this. And, you know, how close we’ve become with God. Try to convince them, or at least try to get them to open their eyes and their mind and their heart to God, and give it a chance, because it helps. It fills that void and you can always count on em,” Cletus said.

Souls Harbor, at 917 S. Main Street in Joplin, opens daily at 9 a.m. Their resident program, housed just down the street, opens at 4 p.m.