There's no place like home for the holidays.
On Thursday afternoon, the Chattanooga Community Kitchen launched its permanent housing program at Matthew's Place, its set of newly remodeled houses on Museum Street, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After three months of extensive renovations -- the patchwork on the exterior concrete foundation is still visible -- the kitchen welcomed longtime visitor May Laymon into her new home with cake and a Christmas tree.
Laymon, who had been homeless since the mid-1990s, wiped a tear from her eye as she cut the ribbon on the new front porch of a home she will share with three other women.
"It feels great," she said. "So much better than the street. You don't even know."
Charlie Hughes, the kitchen's executive director, said establishing permanent housing has always been its No. 1 goal, but he never quite imagined the organization embracing its key role until this year.
After a $100,000 donation, the kitchen was able to acquire and renovate two properties -- one for women, another for men -- to house a total of eight clients. Behind them sits the House of All Souls, another residence owned by the kitchen, with a focus on supportive housing.
Hughes and Mark Williams, the director of personal housing, say they would like to see the kitchen manage and provide up to 10 permanent housing opportunities as funding and properties become available.
"May, you are welcome to stay here as long as you'd like," Hughes said to the woman he has seen visit his kitchen for years, but who now has laid claim to an independent, stable living situation.
Laymon previously found solace living among homeless peers on Broad Street or staying in a messy tent in the woods.
But now she lives in a fresh house at the top of a hill. From her porch, she can see Signal Mountain, and the wintery, leafless woods flank her house on the east.
"I can see them, but I sure don't want to live in them again," Laymon said. "I'm glad I don't have to."
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jla firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.