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Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2011 12:00 pm

By Philip Jankowski

Killeen Daily Herald

The Tree of Life Restoration Center has been in high gear all week finding food and shelter for the homeless and coordinating efforts with other groups to help care of the local homeless.

The center - formerly known as the Vision Center - is run by True Deliverance Ministries, a nondenominational church in downtown Killeen.

Apostle Sadallie I. Cole, the senior pastor at True Deliverance Ministries and founder of the Tree of Life Center, said the program has expanded from its humble beginnings as a single bed in the back of the church to a shelter with counseling, a food pantry, prayer meetings and other outreach programs.

The Tree of Life Center also now offers beds for the homeless. Cole said volunteers and staff have worked to create a shelter atmosphere that can accommodate families, instead of just individuals.

The church can accommodate 12 individuals and the Tree of Life Center has housed up to four families. They continue to expand, moving a youth center from the front of the building, located at the corner of Eighth Street and Avenue C, to an adjacent lot in order to eventually accommodate several more individuals.

Cole said one of the biggest challenges of caring for the homeless is making sure the people they take in are willing to work to make their lives better. He's seen many fickle attempts and lackluster efforts that have led him to eventually turn away some of the homeless who are not making a genuine effort to better themselves.

"We want to see people change," Cole said.

It comes with the territory, Cole said.

"With each person you have to take a chance, even if you feel like they are lying to you. Time always tells," Cole said.

The faith-based center holds counseling sessions for the homeless as well as prayer meetings. Cole said he tries to assign counselors who are in similar places in their life. A young homeless man is matched with a younger counselor, a mother with a counselor who has children and so on.

The Tree of Life Center also acts as a day shelter. It can act as a home base for someone without a home.

Cole encourages job seekers to put down the center's address and telephone number on job applications. Volunteers and staff pass on messages and can gather mail for homeless people.

Cole said the center tries to fill in wherever it sees a gap in services for the homeless, a never-ending task.

"Our responsibility is to take pressure off the city," Cole said.

On Thursday, Cole was working to prepare for impending snow. He had been up the entire night before waiting for a group of homeless who were supposed to stay at a similar shelter in Temple. They never arrived, but Cole was not outwardly frustrated or upset.

In a quick visit with Dr. Alvin Dillard, director of the Christian Assistance Network, and City Councilman Ernest Wilkerson, he secured more blankets for homeless people who may end up staying at the Tree of Life Center that night.

Staff moved about, accepting more than 1,400 pounds of food - mostly frozen chicken, rice and canned goods - from the Capital Area Food Bank to be distributed for free.

A family checked out racks of free clothing.

Cole wants to expand the facility, but money is tight.

"We try to encourage people throughout the month to donate," the center's executive administrator, Marie Alderman, said.

Contact Philip Jankowski at philipj@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.

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