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Rebuilding lives

It was time to change or die for Woody Malone. "I hit a crossroads where it was just like, change or kill myself," said Malone, 36, a former Ashland homeless man who now lives at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass. "I was just a useless waste of space "… and I couldn't live with that."

Malone was an alcoholic, he said, a bad one. He cleaned himself up in his early 20s, but relapsed during his senior year at the Oregon Health & Science University program in Ashland. He was booted out after missing too many clinical hours halfway through the 2006-07 academic year.

"I was that close to being a nurse, but I screwed that up," said Malone.

He said he was sober for 81/2; years until his 2006 binge, which didn't end until Sept. 20, 2011, the last day he had a drink of booze.

Enter William Hayes, founder of the Ashland-based Church Without Walls ministry, which since 2006 has been helping homeless people, felons and those with addictions rebuild their lives.

On Sept. 21, Hayes took Malone into the basement of the Alliance Bible Chapel at 748 Siskiyou Blvd., where Hayes lived, and started Malone's detox.

The goal was to get Malone sober enough to check into the Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission, where individuals can stay indefinitely as long they follow the rules, attend group meetings and hold up their end of a work-trade agreement. If they check out, they can't come back for 30 days.

The first few days of sobriety are the hardest for a worn alcoholic, Hayes knew. The urge to drink can be so strong it leads them away from the mission and their recovery.

"That's why I stayed with them for a few days before taking them there," said Hayes of the people he's helped over the years. "It's always the hardest part for them."

Hayes "brought a box full of movies, a sleeping bag, and a puke bucket and just sat on me for those four days," said Malone. "I just laid on the floor shaking, and when it got too bad he gave me an Ativan."

Hayes made Malone go to Ashland Community Hospital and get a prescription for the drug before beginning the detox.

"I'd probably be dead without him," said Malone. "I was drinking for oblivion ... getting drunk and passing out in the bushes every night."

Hayes, 53, grew up in Ashland, but spent most of his teenage years in a foster home. When he turned 19, he was kicked out, and lived on the streets of Ashland for about six months, he said.

Before returning to his hometown about 12 years ago to raise his daughter, he wandered and worked random jobs around the Western U.S., but maintained a complete devotion to God, which he developed in his mid-20s, he said.

Shortly after founding the Church Without Walls Fellowship, Hayes took over the former "God in the great outdoors" community feed at the Lithia Fountain Gazebo in Lithia Park. The feed was initiated by the Christian Church of Ashland and its pastor, Jim Larsen, in 2002.

Hayes went on to found Sons to Glory / Men of Thunder Ministries, where he is a preacher for both organizations.

Church Without Walls is a registered 501(3)c nonprofit organization through the First Baptist Church of Ashland, which donates about $900 each year to the fellowship Hayes founded.

The rest of the costs of running the free feed each Sunday at Lithia Park comes from individual donations. Church Without Walls also holds annual Christmas and Thanksgiving feeds in Pioneer Hall, and purchases about 50 sleeping bags to hand out at the feeds, said Hayes.

Hayes now lives on the 700 block of Park Street with Roberta Regan, who also preaches for and is a member of the ministry and fellowship Hayes founded.

Both attend the First Baptist and the Alliance churches in Ashland, they said.

Through Church Without Walls and its ministry, the pair, along with a handful of other devoted participants, work on a case-by-case basis with the local homeless community, often opening their homes as a place for them to stay for extended periods of time.

Regan is known as the "soup lady" by some local homeless people because she does almost all of the cooking for the weekly feeds.

"We've worked with all kinds of different people, addicts, poor folks and felons," said Hayes.

"From one side of the valley to the next," added Regan.

They said they meet people who need help through the Sunday feeds, the homeless population's social grapevine, or through a network of about a dozen churches from Ashland to Central Point.

They acknowledge there's a risk in bringing these people into their homes.

On Jan. 29, their home was robbed while they were at church. Gone were two laptops, DVDs and CDs.

Both suspected a homeless man whom they had kicked out after he began drinking and using drugs while staying at their home, but it ultimately wasn't him, Regan said.

The homeless man attended the Sunday feed that evening and told Regan he suspected two of his acquaintances of the robbery, and led her through a number of secret hiding spots homeless people use around the city, she said.

Eventually they recovered one of the laptops, which a business owner off Will Dodge Way found stashed beneath a large green electrical box outside the back door.

The case is no longer under investigation by the Ashland Police Department, but one of the laptops still is missing.

"Things like that are discouraging," Regan said. "But it's not like what we do is optional, it's a biblical command we've been called on to carry out ... to help the poor and those in need."

That's why she allowed Hayes to take over a bedroom at her house when he moved from the basement of the Alliance Church.

He lived at the Alliance from summer 2009 until Pastor Robert D. Mathers, who allowed Hayes to live and detox people there, died at his home in Talent on Oct. 1, 2011.

"He was a great man, " said Hayes. "People could have died on the streets of Ashland without him."

During the two-year period before Hayes moved into the church's basement, Mathers allowed him to use living quarters behind the church as a makeshift homeless shelter during the winter months. The living quarters originally were built for the church pastor, but Mathers lived in Talent and used the building only for occasional Bible studies, Hayes said.

"The city didn't know about it," said Hayes. "We kept it a secret."

It wasn't advertised other than by word of mouth, and it was open nearly every night during those winters, Hayes said. There were as many as 12 people staying there at one time, he said.

Aside from a few small scuffles, nothing serious ever arose, he said; it was just a place to sleep.

It was mostly men staying there, but when a woman showed up, Hayes split the building into two sections and separated the genders, he said.

While living at the church, Hayes detoxed about 15 people in the basement of the Alliance, he said, but Malone was the last one, and it likely will stay that way, as Mathers is gone.

Malone is one of about a half-dozen people Hayes and Regan have transported to the mission in Grants Pass, each said.

The pair and other members of their ministry have taken countless other homeless people to Medford so they could be closer to the resources they need to survive.

"There is nothing here for them," said Regan about Ashland. "That's why we take people to Medford and to Grants Pass."

Hayes said the hardest part of running the ministry and fellowship is trying to get volunteers to take on people from the streets.

"What's the point of drawing people into a building for a few hours and then turning around and kicking them back out in the cold?" asked Hayes.

"What we do speaks a little louder ... the more people that step up, the more people's needs are met."

Like at the mission in Grants Pass, Regan and Hayes require people who stay with them to participate in Bible readings and other religious activities, but the primary goal is to help human beings who are suffering, Hayes said, not to convince them to join the ministry.

"Not every person we take on makes it to the finished product. Sometimes you have to cut them loose and just let them do what they need to do," said Hayes. "But we don't know what could have happened to them if they hadn't had our help for that short period ... they may have died.

"That's enough to keep us doing it."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

A former Ashland homeless man, Woody Malone, 36, now lives and cooks at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass. - Julia Moore