By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Yes, it was warm and cozy at the Humble House Monday night, not like the dark street outside where the cold wind blew.
A chandelier hung above the dining room table. Keith and Brandon sat there. They were listening to the chattering group in the living room.
Mike and Richard were teasing Randall about his resemblance to music star Randy Travis.
The men were waiting for dinner. P.K. was in the kitchen fixing some barbecue and beans.
It doesn't sound like much, but miracles can come wrapped in plain packages.
The men of Humble House are recovering drug addicts. Every night's a miracle, they said, their words true to the program's mission statement.
'There's the Good Lord, friendship and comfort - and P.K.'s cooking,' Richard Farmer said. 'There's hope we can get better.'
Farmer's been clean for seven months straight. He's 33 and HIV positive, but he's no longer a 'street junkie.' He says he has goals, dreams and hope.
'I have faith that God will provide,' Farmer said. 'Not just for me but for all of us.'
Farmer now works at Humble House as director of ministries. He leads Humble House residents in Bible studies and small-group counseling sessions.
'I believe in this program 100 percent,' Farmer said. 'This house, it's where I found God, it's where I found that He cared. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for God.'
Farmer's words inspired a round of applause and a hardy 'amen' from his fellow recovering addicts.
Most of the men at the Humble House have similar stories.
Chris Moore is the re-entry coordinator who helps ex-prisoners adjust to daily life in society. He now owns an upholstery business and has a family, but he was once 'a trouble-causing drug addict' who spent time behind bars.
'I know what it's like,' Moore said. 'I was one of those guys at Martha's Kitchen, needing food and a place to stay. It's just a block away from here. But I wasn't ready. I had to get ready. Once I made it here, it's the longest I've been clean.'
Moore had to learn a lesson before he could convince himself to undergo the rigor of the Humble House recovery program.
'I've got people in my life. They might have wanted me to get with it, but I couldn't get and stay clean for them,' Moore said. 'I had to get and stay clean for me.'
Paul King (P.K.) may be everybody's favorite chef, but he's got a criminal record as well. As the food services director, he's the last one to eat and the first one to get up in the mornings. It's his charge to make sure all the residents are awake by 6:15 a.m.
Even the man in charge, Steve Neatherlin, has 'bad-boy rep.'
'I started shooting up (heroine) when I was 9. I've been arrested 17 times for drug and alcohol related crimes,' Neatherlin said. 'So I know what life is like on the streets. And I know you're not going to get better by yourself. That's why I'm here, why Humble House is here to help.'
Humble House opened in May 2007 with a donation and a vision.
Neatherlin had the vision. He wanted to help addicts trade their drugs for God's love.
Joseph Tempelberg had the donation: Some land, two empty houses and a building. He's the owner of Tutor Nursing Home in Temple.
The nursing home administrator, Jo Beach, is the woman who put the two together. She knew Neatherlin from church; they both attend First Assembly of God.
'I thought (Neatherlin) had a good cause,' Mrs. Beach said. 'I wanted to help him.'
So Mrs. Beach suggested that Tempelberg donate the property to Humble House Ministries Inc.
'She did all the work in making it happen,' Tempelberg said. 'I'm glad the property went to do something good for the community.'
The deal gave Humble House Ministries three properties: A 10-bed house on Seventh Street and two structures on Ninth Street, a classroom facility and a seven-bed house.
'Since we've opened, we've been able to help at least 75 guys,' Neatherlin said. (He's licensed to direct drug and alcohol treatment through Chaplain Fellowship Ministries.)
The good the center is for the community was recognized last summer when it received a Presidential Service Award from George W. Bush.
The Seventh Street house is the first stop for men going through the Humble House program.
'We tell new residents about the program,' Neatherlin said. 'We explain that it is about whole recovery, and we ask for commitment of 30 days. It's not going to work if you're not committed.'
But for 'guys just off the street,' he said the 30-day idea is scary.
'If that's the case, we ask them for 24 hours,' Neatherlin said. 'They watch what goes on, and if they want to be a part of it, they stay. Nobody forces them into staying.'
The length of stay is each man's choice.
'You know when you're ready to go,' Neatherlin said. 'It's not something that can be measured in 90 days. When you're up and brushing your hair and teeth, and you know what you want to do that day and you're excited, that's when your ready.'
Once the men prove to themselves and the directors that they can be accountable for their actions and hold responsibility, then they move to the house on Ninth Street.
'That one acts more like a half-way house,' Neatherlin said. 'They still have group meetings to attend, but the responsibility to do it is theirs, not a director's.'
Unlike their Seventh Street pals, the Ninth Street men have to be employed.
'They've got to get up and get to work on time everyday,' Neatherlin said. 'It's required that 50 percent of their income comes to Humble House. That's how it's all funded, that plus donations.'
The requirement didn't bother any of the men who were at Humble House Monday night.
'When you're not paying bills or buying food, giving up half your check isn't a bad thing,' said Farmer, a man who's lived in both houses. 'It's good even. Because that way you are working for what was given to you.'
Even Brandon appreciated the requirement. It was day No. 1 at Humble House for the 21-year-old.
'When you've slept on the streets for a couple of months, giving money up isn't a bad deal,' Brandon said. 'At least you've got money coming in to give. The rest of it's yours.'
The men at the Seventh Street house don't have to guess about their day. They know exactly what to do and where to go.
'These guys don't have enough time to be just sitting around,' Neatherlin said. 'If they are, then they're not serious about getting better and they won't be here for long.'
Breakfast is 6-6:55 a.m., and 7 a.m. starts the day with a Bible study.
They break to do some chores. They take turns washing dishes, cleaning house and caring for the lawn.
Then at 9 a.m., they head to class for a lesson in 'Conquering Chemical Dependency.' These sessions usually include a discussion, video and homework assignment.
After lunch, each man must attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. By 2 p.m., it's back to class for a lesson in the 12 steps of recovery.
Homework time follows at 3 p.m.
They get an hour's break before the 5 p.m. dinner, but by 7 p.m., it's back to class for another round of 12-step study.
Journal time starts at 8 p.m., and lights are out by 10 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends.
'Journal time is important,' Neatherlin said. 'It helps us see how our thoughts go, and that's important in recovery.'
The day's activities are cognitive.
'All of the classes and studies are about processing a renewing mind,' Neatherlin said. 'It's about changing destructive thought patterns and habits.'
Even though the schedule is strict, the director said it's still possible for recovering addicts to 'slip up.'
To combat that risk, every resident is subject to a random urine analysis.
'It adds an extra layer of accountability,' Neatherlin said.
Keeping it real
Security's no problem at Humble House.
In fact, the idea of harm coming their way made the residents laugh.
'It's a house full of big recovering drug addicts,' Mrs. Beach said. 'Who's going to barge in and cause trouble?' (Mrs. Beach has assumed the role of housemother. She often takes dessert to 'her boys.')
The men were still laughing.
'We got cell phones,' Farmer said. 'We ain't afraid to use them.'
If there came to be any situation the men couldn't handle, Neatherlin said they could rely on the house pet for help.
'Yeah, Spirit would get them,' P.K. said, talking about a while pit-bull dog.
'You remember that time that guy tried to knife Spirit,' Farmer said. 'Spirit didn't take any of it.'
The memory sobered the joking crowd.
'We know how to read each other,' Farmer said. 'When an addict comes through the door, we know how to read his eyes.'
Neatherlin nodded his head.
'You can sense a plotter, one who doesn't want recovery, con-artist,' Neatherlin said. 'We've all been one at one point in time. So we catch on when somebody's trying to pull our strings.'
There's been several verbal confrontations with guys wanting to cause trouble, Neatherlin said, in addition to two fistfights.
'But most of the time, it's what you see when you walk in the door,' Neatherlin said. 'A home.'