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Rural Missouri Magazine

Shepherd of the Homeless
Paul Kruse helps the poor get back on their feet

by Jarrett Medlin
Paul Kruse chats with Samantha and Jesse Dickson, a homeless mother and son. Paul takes it upon himself to help homeless people get on their feet. The Dicksons were able to purchase the car they're leaning against through help from a local relief agency that Paul led them to.

The shepherd cares for his flock with unending patience. He reaches out to the downtrodden wherever they are — seedy motels, truck stops, soup kitchens, the woods. He gets the call and he goes without question. Because everyone else has told them no, Paul Kruse finds a way to say yes.

“I call it intensive, one-on-one casework because I’m there with them every step of the way. Taking them to work, finding food and clothes, scolding them — whatever it takes,” says Kruse, an average guy who is barely ahead of the bill collectors himself, but still finds a way to donate time and money to helping the homeless.

He is relentlessly kind, but firm as a father when necessary. He uses his own credit cards to provide the homeless with motel rooms. He transports them to work and temp agencies in his old blue van, with its broken windshield and more than 120,000 miles. He lets them use his address and phone number on job applications. He teaches them about sources of food and clothing. He does all he can to ensure they succeed in every way they can.

“He was the only one that believed in us,” says Samantha Dickson. “He was the crutch to help us stand on our own.”

The 40-year-old mother sits on her bed in the Knights Inn, an old white and green motel that rents for $160 per week in Wentzville. Outside, traffic roars down Interstate 70 and a light mist falls from the sky. A box of Rice Krispies and an opened can of green beans from the Salvation Army rest beside the television. Samantha’s 27-year-old son, Jesse, sits on a blanket on the floor and watches “NYPD Blue” on the TV screen while his mother tells how she met Paul.

“After our apartment burnt down in May, we moved into the O’Fallon Hotel,” she says. The roach-infested hotel was condemned three months later, and the two suddenly found themselves homeless. After nearly every local agency turned them away, the Salvation Army gave her the number of a man from Lake St. Louis. Samantha called the number and after only a few minutes on the phone, Paul told her she had a place to stay.

Paul Kruse, a Lake St. Louis resident who barely pays his own bills each month, helps the homeless by donating time, money and knowledge.

A week later, when the Dicksons were down to one granola bar, the shepherd arrived with a box of food. On mornings when they needed a ride to a local temp agency to find work, he was there. Every time they thought about giving up, he pushed them on. Today, the mother and son both have full-time jobs and a car.

“It will be very soon where we’re finally on our own,” Samantha says with pride.

Since March, Paul has helped more than 100 homeless people like Samantha and Jesse. “It works out that about 1 in 2 of the calls I get can make it,” he says. Compare that statistic to the 1 in 14 who successfully recover with the help of a social worker, says Paul, and you quickly realize the radical difference in his approach to solving homelessness.

Paul’s approach is simple. No red tape. No excuses. He gives them three nights in a $33 per night motel room to stabilize themselves and to find food, clothes, transportation and a job. On the third day, they show promise or they’re cut loose.

“I can tell right away if they’ve had bad luck or if they’re scamming,” he says. “This program won’t work if you don’t work.”

Sitting on a chair next to the TV, the shepherd wears sneakers with Velcro and a plain blue T-shirt that covers his slight paunch. A streak of white paint on his left arm hints at his job as a contractor. At 58, Paul’s hair is slightly thinning and disheveled from running his fingers through it. His eyes are bright blue, and they squint when he throws back his head in laughter. His voice is low and gravelly, and he often says things like “hallelujah” and “praise God.” His favorite motto is from an 18th-century preacher who once said, “It would be a changed world if everyone would attend to the sorrows and suffering of others before them.”

“That’s the same thing the Bible says: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,” he says.

Paul says it was the Lord who first got him involved in his quest. After helping found the West-Plex Community Church in Foristell in 2001, Paul started the outreach ministry. He began searching for places to spread the Gospel, and he found the Travel America truck stop in Foristell, along Interstate 70. “It turns out truck stops are like magnets for homeless people,” he says.

Paul visits Bob Evans, a former limousine company owner from Wisconsin, in Evans' motel room. Paul helped Evans renew his driver's license and guided him through red tape to sort out problems with his medical prescriptions.

It was there, amid those tired and weary road warriors, that he first laid eyes on a bedraggled man with a knapsack and no place to go. He asked the man why he didn’t stay at the Salvation Army or another shelter, and the man explained the shelters in St. Charles didn’t take single homeless men or anyone else if they are full. So, Paul rented a cheap hotel room for him and began looking for local social services. He found services like the Salvation Army and St. Joachim and Ann Care Service provided food, clothing and other benefits, but they were extremely limited in helping the homeless become self-sufficient.

Left with no other option, the shepherd began helping the homeless on his own. He charged hotel rooms to his own credit cards until he maxed them out. He brought the homeless to temp agencies and talked to friends about giving them minimum-wage jobs. He taught them how to make a budget and find free food and clothing. After a number of homeless people succeeded, it became apparent that Paul’s technique worked. Soon, established relief agencies, police departments, parole boards and churches were sending the homeless his way.

In March, Paul made his efforts more official by founding First Step Back Home, a nonprofit program that works with the local St. Charles Community Council. On April 3, Cuivre River Electric Cooperative donated $5,000 to the organization from the co-op’s Operation Round-Up Program, which allows co-op members to round up their electric bills and distributes the money to charitable causes. The donation has helped fund several months of the Cuivre River Electric member’s work, but the money is quickly running out.

Like those he helps, Paul relies on the generosity of others. “I can’t do it on my own,” he says. “The program will cease to exist without donations.”

Now, the shepherd is off in his van to pick up Bob, a 43-year-old man who suffers from heart problems and a herniated disc. Bob owned a successful limousine business in Wisconsin before coming to St. Louis for triple-bypass surgery and losing most of his savings to medical expenses. Soon, he was homeless and unable to pick up his medication. That’s when he called the shepherd.

“It was a wonder Bob was still alive when I met him,” Paul says. “He hadn’t had any pills for two weeks, and he usually takes 18 pills a day for congestive heart failure and diabetes.”

“If the general public knew what was going on, they’d be sick about it,” he says. “I go home at night and feel like kissing the floor for what I have.”

Today, Paul spends two hours hauling Bob around in hopes of getting his car licensed so he can visit the doctor and pick up pills and food on his own. Unfortunately, Bob is rejected at the Department of Motor Vehicles during the last stop of the day because of a problem with his insurance card. Bob is obviously upset and frustrated, but Paul attempts to cheer him up by buying him a double cheeseburger and saying, “Well, you’re almost there. Now you just need to contact the insurance company, and you’ll have this thing licked.”

The shepherd drops off Bob at his apartment, then makes his way to the truck stop for a meeting about a trucker appreciation event the church is planning for semi drivers and locals. Despite wasting part of his day — a day in which he could have instead worked and made $1,000 for finishing a job — he is in good spirits.

“Bob will be set before long. Then, it will be time for the next guy,” he says. “It’s never ending. Just when I get a guy on his feet, two more call.”

After a moment, he adds, “But it’s so rewarding and I’m having fun doing it. Just seeing their eyes sparkle and hearing them talk about making it is enough to keep me going.”

Through his shades, the shepherd stares at the road ahead and smiles.

To contact Paul Kruse, call (636) 561-3179 or write to 18 Auvergne Drive, Lake St. Louis, MO 63367.

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