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
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
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.
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
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
“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.