MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a short time, a once vacant building has gone from a tax office, to a warming center and now a hub to help the housing insecure living in the Orange Mound community.
The pandemic upended small-business owner Samuel Nelson's life.
"I lost all of my massage contracts because of corona," Nelson said. "We're a nationwide chair massage company and we lost everything because we massage people at work."
That's how he got into the tax business. Nelson pivoted like many others and bought into the Better Days Tax Service franchise and opened a location in Orange Mound. A natural pivot, Nelson said, for a community looking to build more entrepreneurs.
"As business owners you need to know your books, know your numbers, and always communicating with your tax preparer," Nelson said.
Nelson set up an office space at 2363 Park Ave. A building owned by the non-profit JUICE Orange Mound, a grassroots organization aimed at improving all lives of Orange Mound residents.
The organization, led by Britney Thornton, has plans to turn the building into a business incubator. An effort the group continues to fundraise for to accomplish.
Meanwhile, Nelson, a JUICE Board Member, rented out the space for his budding business. Nelson said the storefront was just computers, tax preparers were at home but they wanted to provide a space for people without internet to be able to come in and use a computer to file their taxes.
That changed when the winter storm hit several weeks ago.
"We would have a tax office open during the day and then in the afternoon, let's bring all of these people in there and it grew to such a need that my financial need is not as important as people’s lives so we shifted," Nelson said. "We gave the building back over to JUICE."
Even though the weather improved, the organization of JUICE acknowledged that there was still a need to help people that were living on the streets whether it's cold or not.
“We’ve been averaging anywhere between 23 and 26 people and so we see more people that we’re feeding every day so it’s just obvious that the need is there," Thornton said.
Now, it's a full-time helping center known as "The Hub".
“We seek to build a pipeline so people can go from the streets to homeownership" Thornton said.
The Hub is a pop-up resource center for men and women living on the streets where volunteers can connect to those that are underserved and living housing insecure.
"We’re not going to transition out of this project without making sure that each of our guests have strong transition plans so in order for that to happen we need some more folks to step up," Thornton said. "We’re looking for permanent transitional housing in Orange Mound for a population of 30 to 40 people folks we already have names to and relationships with."
Thornton said they hope to build more community partnerships and corporate sponsors to make it happen.
To support JUICE in its efforts, you can donate here.
Learn more about JUICE's efforts to bring a business incubator to the community here.