The two-story, century-old house on the east side of Columbus is Nathaniel Stewart’s baby.
The young Wright State University graduate is having the home renovated so it can house five members of what is a growing population of homeless people with mental illnesses and/or drug addictions. The house is a model created by the organization Stewart founded and the first home of what he hopes will be many.
“This is a step toward what we actually want to do — creating this network of independent housing for these individuals,” Stewart said. “The need is really huge. I feel like I’m an advocate, a voice for this underrepresented population.”
The old house, near the upscale neighborhood of Bexley, features hardwood floors, a fireplace and bay window. Slapping sounds float up from the basement, where a worker is spackling. The house is expected to be ready for occupancy in about six months.
On this particular day, Stewart has come from the open shelter at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church in downtown Columbus. People there were beginning to line up to claim a bed for the evening. There are as many as 4,000 homeless people in the greater Columbus area.
“The shelter is a vital part of the community because we don’t have much housing available for the homeless,” Stewart said. “A lot of these individuals have the ability to live on their own with the proper supervision and the proper care.”
Stewart wants to rehabilitate homes from the city’s land bank, a repository of vacant houses that normally need minor renovations in order to be habitable. Each renovated house would have someone to supervise the homeless residents and an assigned person to cut the grass and perform other maintenance.
Stewart grew up in Columbus. His mother served 25 years in the military and currently works for the Defense Logistics Agency, which supplies and supports the acquisition of weapons, parts and other materials.
When he was a young boy, Stewart’s aunt took her own life.
“There are a lot of red flags and signs. If you’re educated, you can notice these things and help out and possibly even prevent these type of things from happening,” he said. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to do something to make an impact.”
After graduating from Bexley High School, Stewart came to Wright State, attracted by the school’s strong academics and not-too-close-but-not-too-far-away proximity to Columbus.
“I feel like it’s one of those hidden gems,” he said. “It’s not an Ivy League school, but it has a great education.”
Stewart chose to major in organizational leadership because it marries organizational systems with human management. After getting his bachelor’s degree in 2013, he landed a job as business development adviser for the Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry, which is part of the Columbus-based Acadia Health Care system.
“I think this is a place where I can make a career,” he said. “We do community engagement, strategic partnerships and long-term planning. We’re trying to see how we can make psychiatric care a continuum of normal health care.”
It was through his community outreach and doing a survey of the 44 residential adult care facilities in the Columbus area that he realized many mentally ill people who lived in the facilities would benefit from greater supervision and structure that a home would provide.
So he founded a nonprofit called The NuLief Group to do just that. The organization is getting grant money as part of an initiative by the City of Columbus to provide housing for up to 25 percent of the homeless population.
“The support I received was absolutely astonishing,” he said.
Stewart was able to partner with other nonprofits to launch the inaugural R.E.A.C.H. (Revive, Evolve, Achieve, Create, Harvest) event in support of the mission. It attracted the attention of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, state senators, other community leaders and local media outlets.
Stewart says Wright State is special to him because it instilled values and prepared him for the working world.
“And being involved in organizations on campus allowed me to take that same model and try it out here after college,” he said.
When he is not working, Stewart spends time with his 7-month-old daughter, Paetynn. And he likes to read.
His book at the moment is “Thick Face, Black Heart: The Warrior Philosophy for Conquering the Challenges of Business and Life.” It teaches how to apply ancient Chinese military wisdom to the competitive world of business.
“It really talks about having thick skin and being able to take on all the things that life throws at you,” Stewart said.
Learn more about The NuLief Group at nuliefgroup.org.