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Jesus House in Oklahoma City works to rebuild community trust

The Jesus House has had problems with its finances and leadership. Rick Denny, the new executive director of the Oklahoma City homeless shelter, said things are looking up but the nonprofit isn't out of the woods yet.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: January 15, 2012

Good news came in the mail for Rick Denny this week.

The attorney general sent a note telling the executive director of the Jesus House that after more than a year of investigation, the case against the Oklahoma City homeless shelter was closed.

“We got a letter just (Wednesday), dated a couple days ago, just stating they acknowledged our compliance,” Denny said. “That was kind of a cool thing to get. We feel like we're on our way.”

With the investigation closed and donations up, Denny said the embattled charity is making a turnaround. But nothing is guaranteed, he said.

“We're by no means out of the woods from a financial perspective,” Denny said. “It could all go away at any time.”

The Jesus House is a shelter for homeless people suffering addiction or mental health problems. The faith-based refuge has about 80 beds.

Unpaid bills

The agency came under fire in 2010, when the executive director was accused of earning too much while agency bills went unpaid. Janis Mercer earned about $179,000 in 2009 — more than twice her salary from three years earlier.

The agency also was accused of loaning nearly $100,000 to several employees, including Mercer. The state attorney general's office started an investigation.

The letter is a signal to the community that the Jesus House is improving, said Mickey Homsey, an attorney who represents the charity.

“We did everything we could to bring them (the Jesus House) back from the brink of disaster,” Homsey said. “It gives donors peace of mind. There are no problems and there's nothing to worry about with their gifts.”

The board and employees have been working to tighten up finances, Denny said.

Record-keeping and organization has improved. Utility bills have been caught up within the past month. Employee loans and petty cash aren't allowed. Board members are hammering out a budget.

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