His arms are covered with self-harm scars made by razor cuts. He's lived for a time on the streets, suffered from alcoholism, and has served time in prison. On top of all this, Eaton suffers from Schizoaffective Disorder, a mental illness with psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia such as severe changes in mood, delusions and disorganized thinking.
He's entertained thoughts of suicide. But no more.
His life is on the right track now since his parole officer connected him to the Exodus Place, 322 Front Ave. SW in Grand Rapids, a Christian transitional living center Robb Munger founded in 2009. The nonprofit's 38,000-square foot building previously was a correctional facility.
Eaton is one of around 100 men live who there for an average of five months, longer for others. To date, 2,400 to 3,000 men have received help from the Exodus Place.
It's like family
"It's like a family here," Eaton said, a Grand Rapids native. "I'm always hanging out with the people I work with. I need that because the more people I'm around ,the more structured I am when I'm not by myself."
Eaton's new lease has encouraged him to think about a productive outlook on his life. He plans to enroll in culinary arts classes and one day work as a chef.
"It's one of my first jobs working in a restaurant and I enjoyed that as well as cooking with my mom," Eaton said.
The men arrive at the Exodus Place with their share of emotional, spiritual, physical and mental baggage. They are veterans and felons, alcoholics, drug addicts and the homeless who need more than "three hots and a cot."
Exodus Place also serves as a transitional service for men who will eventually need adult foster care, placement in a nursing home or hospice.
Exodus Place's genesis
The idea of launching the Exodus Place first took shape when Munger served on the board of directors at Guiding Light Mission, a rescue mission located at 255 S. Division Ave. that's in the Heartside District, which is bounded roughly by Fulton and Wealthy streets and Grandville and Lafayette avenues.
The proposal was floated to have Guiding Light purchase the building where the Exodus Place is now because Front Avenue was far enough away from the temptations characteristic of S. Division Avenue but that proposal eventually was scuttled.
That's when Munger kicked the idea around to purchase the building himself. So he did.
Today, with an annual budget of $800,000, Exodus Place operates with a 21-member staff that includes case managers, workforce development, medical and kitchen staff and a tutor. The staff networks with more than 40 agencies.
The men have the option to receive off-site education to earn their GED, have on-site Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous support groups, weekday devotions, and are taught job skills.
Three pillars includes compassion
Munger said his staff works to instill in his residents "three pillars" to nurture socially acceptable behavior. In case a resident needs a reminder of what they entail, the "pillars" are ablaze on Exodus Place's cafeteria wall. Pillar No. 1: men, mission, me. Pillar No. 2: train, disciple, communicate. Pillar No. 3: love, compassion and accountability.
"We're focused on being a good steward and loving our neighbor as ourselves," Munger said, who is the Exodus Place's president and executive director. "We know God loves the men here. They are shown love and compassion."
The men who live there are referred to as "members" for specific reasons, said Munger.
"The term 'residents' has a couple of negative connotations," he said. "Some consider the word to mean a prisoner, or a drug and alcohol facility. We're more than a housing facility. We call them members because they're part of this institution where we're more of a family-team."
Munger said the Exodus Place is "one step above a rescue mission" that catches men who fall through the system's cracks.
"Some of these men are not bad off enough to be in a hospital but not well enough to be in a rescue mission," Munger said. "Yet, they need structured housing and care management, so we fill the gap."
Some of those gaps the Exodus Place fills includes training some of its members with workforce training skills, which may require stabilizing them from drug and alcohol dependencies, depending on the individual.
Exodus Place was initially named the Exodus Building but was renamed when six former homeless men walked over a bridge and received an epiphany.
"They felt like they were exiting the slavery of poverty and addictions," Munger said. "They were happy. They were out of slavery, like 40 years in a desert and into the Promised Land."