Michelle Trout was sleeping with a knife nearby, never knowing what was about to happen to her or her teenage son.
“We had to sleep in my truck in a truck stop,” Trout said. “I would pray overnight we didn’t get run off from there. I had to stay with some people who were alcoholics for a while, some who were violent. Some were horrible.”
Trout’s husband had left, leaving them homeless. She hadn’t been working when he left either.
Trout and her son bounced around from friend to friend trying to find someone who could help them. They weren’t eligible for help from many organizations.
But then a couple of nonprofits in the area referred her to DOC-UP (Dalton Organization of Churches United for People).
“When I got to DOC-UP, they were able to help me,” Trout said. “They helped me get into an apartment, get electricity turned on, and referred me to the Salvation Army who helped me with my rent.”
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I have a sense of stability now. My son does, too. It changes a lot, like the fear of not knowing where you are going to sleep night to night. ... Now I’m working. I’m blessed with a job at Catoosa Shutter (Company). Now I’m able to pay bills. I have peace of mind. I’m able to sleep at night. I’m not worried about where my knife is and if someone was going to come in on us in the middle of the night. It makes a big difference.”
DOC-UP is an ecumenical nonprofit that helps people with rent, utilities and prescription medications. Clients can receive help once a year for three years. It’s designed to help people with an income who have hit hard times. The organization is financially backed by 23 churches and several Sunday school classes.
“Praise God for DOC-UP,” Trout said. “I had been turned down by so many other organizations, I was hesitant at first. It worked out really well. They were completely awesome. No one in there was judging me because of my situation. It was like I was always told, ‘You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves.’ But here I was trying, and I couldn’t get the help I needed.”
DOC-UP assists approximately 1,700 families a year ranging from widows or widowers on a fixed income to mill workers who have been laid off for a week or two, families who’ve had major medical problems and even working professionals who have had unexpected expenses, said Ginny Bridges Ireland, executive director.
“These aren’t people who are unwilling to work,” Ireland said. “They’re living month to month. You have to have some kind of income to see us. We know that the money we give you keeps you stable. Most of us are only a paycheck away from being the same way.”
Ireland hopes that next week DOC-UP will be able to start seeing and helping even more residents in the area. The organization is moving from its current location on Valley Drive to 100 W. Gordon St. It will be open on Monday, closed Oct. 16 and 18, then reopen in its new location on Monday, Oct. 21. It will more than double its current space where it has been since 2002.
“When space is limited, services are limited,” Ireland said. “We knew if we were going to grow we had to have more space.”
The DOC-UP office currently is in one half of a duplex and has two interview rooms. It was provided by Dalton First United Methodist Church.
“First United Methodist Church has taken care of us,” Ireland said. “They have given us a home and have been a major financial supporter as well.”
The new location is being provided by Rock Bridge Community Church, another supporter. It is the church’s former offices. The organization will remain an independently governing agency.
There will be four interview rooms, the new location is more handicapped accessible, and there will be a meeting area that can seat approximately 100, meaning DOC-UP can serve more people while expanding services. The new meeting room will hopefully provide a place for classes such as those offered by Sharing is Caring, where people take classes, then use their completion certificate to shop for toys at Christmas.
The new location will also have space for a computer to assist with job searches and applications. All the new services and space means the agency needs more volunteers.
“I don’t think Dalton is aware of how pervasive poverty is,” Ireland said. “It’s not just the homeless. Some have had one crisis too many ... With all the rain we’ve had this year, a lot of outdoor workers are not getting as many hours. If they have nowhere to turn, no family to help, it could be disastrous.”
DOC-UP works closely with other nonprofit agencies to make sure people are receiving the help they need, and also to make sure people aren’t abusing the system.
“We want to help people become self-sufficient, not do for someone what they can do for themselves,” Ireland said. “Clients can see us once a year for three years. If you’re not on your feet by then, we can’t help you. We want people to be self-sustaining.”
The Dalton area has been hit hard by the unstable economy, and Ireland believes without agencies like DOC-UP and the other nonprofits, many people in the community would be in much worse shape.
“If you’re in trouble, Dalton is a good place to be,” she said. “People care. All of your needs can be met if you’re willing to work and have motivation.”