LORAIN, Ohio – Aaron and Gracie Lumpkin don’t mind living in a homeless shelter. To them it’s a temporary stop on the road to independence.
Even though Aaron, 62, a Vietnam War veteran, and Gracie, 56, must stay in separate dormitories in the shelter at St. Joseph Church in this formerly bustling steel town 30 miles west of Cleveland, the Lumpkins are in high spirits, feeling that good fortune is just around the corner.
Their goal: getting their own franchise for a commercial cleaning business with a little help from some stimulus money from the federal government.
Talking over a meal of stew, potatoes and green beans at the Catholic Charities Family Center in downtown Lorain, Aaron Lumpkin said it’s been his dream for years to run his own business. Even while he worked at various jobs in California and Kentucky he thought he wanted to be his own boss.
The married couple returned to their hometown last fall after Aaron Lumpkin retired from the Ford Motor Co. factory in Louisville, Ky., thinking the time was right to start a business in this lakefront city that has no place to go but up.
Lorain, a once prosperous blue-collar community on the shores of Lake Erie, has suffered hard times for more than a generation. Unemployment has grown to more than 10 percent. For much of the last decade, job losses have rivaled those in Youngstown, 75 miles to the southeast.
Formerly home to such manufacturing behemoths as the U.S. Steel Corp., the Ford Motor Co., Lorain Products and George Steinbrenner’s American Shipbuilding Co., Lorain was built through the cooperation and hard work of Europeans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and blacks from the deep South.
As long as the factories remained open, people rarely moved from Lorain. Generations knew they could make a good living in the tight-knit community identified by tree-lined streets and a wonderful park system. Catholic, Protestant and evangelical churches blossomed.
The Catholic Charities-run family center, a block from Lorain’s main business district, has seen a constantly rising increase in requests for food and assistance with utilities and rent. It’s coming from people that human services worker Becky Sigal has never seen before in the 26 years she has been with the center.
“It’s different faces, but the same stories,” Sigal said.
The Lumpkins are looking past that reality and want to bring some of the positive feelings they experienced while growing up in the city of 69,000.
But first they’ve got to get out of the shelter.
Lumpkin is waiting for his Social Security benefits to kick in. A series of delays has prevented him from receiving his benefits. As an Army vet, he has tried to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to help, but to no avail.
“They promise you something, but they put up a roadblock,” he said.
When added to his monthly pension from Ford, the Social Security benefit will provide more than enough income for the couple to find a place of their own. That’s when they plan to get in touch with city officials to determine how their business can qualify for stimulus money.
The couple is not sure how much they will need, but they have spent much of the winter and spring at the library drafting a business plan and studying ways to make the business profitable.
The Lumpkins find living in the shelter has not been all that bad. They said the last eight months have always been part of God’s plan for their lives.
“I finally matured enough to learn how to let God handle it,” Aaron Lumpkin said. “I refuse to let it consume me with anger and bitterness.”