Homelessness is not just a problem relative to the Cape Ann area, but religious leaders and volunteers have proven that the latest effort to tackle the problem locally can still be addressed.
The Grace Center celebrated its one year anniversary on Wednesday.
Volunteers and religious leaders joked that the Grace Center itself is a “homeless” homeless center, as it migrates from St. John’s on Wednesdays, the Unitarian Universalist Church on Tuesdays and the Trinity Congregational Church on Thursdays, open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The roving center was launched in December 2011, when the need for a dayside facility for the homeless emerged from discussions about the Action Inc. shelter, which is Cape Ann’s only residential homeless facility, but does not open for the night until 5 p.m.
Over its first year, the center has come to serve a number of people, from those with substance abuse problems to people who just need a meal and a place to rest their head, said Rev. Tom Bentley of Trinity.
Rector Bret Hays of St. John’s Episcopal Church said that at first, he was not sure what organizers were getting into. Looking back a year later, he said that by giving back to the community and giving back to people who need help, churches can once again be established as a place to get help, an age-old purpose of religious institutions.
“We serviced just about 200 people this year,” Bentley said. “Some people were regulars who needed somewhere to go until the Action center opened, others we just saw one or two times.”
The center encourages people to seek the right help, but does not force any religious belief upon anyone, Bentley said.
“A lot of it is just building a relationship,” he said. “Sitting down and talking to someone can make a big difference.”
He said that arrests have decreased for those with substance abuse problems or those who are homeless. More often than not, he added, people in need of the center’s services are just down on their luck, or need a boost until their next paycheck.
Janelle Favaloro is on the board of directors for the center and volunteers there just about every Wednesday.
She said the Grace Center is accepting of anyone who seeks help. Some Action Inc. staff members have worked closely with the center’s staff. From time to time, people come to the Grace Center for the afternoon rather than going to Action Inc.
Action Executive Director Tim Riley said the Grace Center has filled a much needed gap. There are currently 34 beds at the shelter, all of them full. During this time of year, Riley said, the shelter has become backed up with people needing a place to stay.
He said the shelter does have a few chronic cases, but most people do find work or a place to stay. The Move On program requires someone to be actively looking for a job or a way to better themselves in order to stay at Action.
Favaloro said Action Inc., as a “wet” center — one that allows alcohol — may not be the right atmosphere for some people. She said people are sent in the right direction if they want the help, whether it be substance abuse help or an educational program, but nothing is mandatory.
“You never know who could walk through our doors,” she said.
The lunches, provided by Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester, encourage healthy eating, according to 29-year-old Jennifer Burke, who visits the Grace Center on occasion.
For the anniversary celebration on Wednesday however, pizza was donated by Poseidon’s, clam chowder by the Gloucester House Restaurant and even more food was donated by La Rosa’s pizzeria.
Burke said the Grace Center has been an immense help for homeless people, or anyone down on their luck, including herself. She said she usually visits the center all three days.
In addition, Burke said she is training to becoming a minister herself, with the Grace Center being a perfect training ground.
“This center has really been a blessing, not just for me, but everyone involved,” she said. “With everything I have been through, I feel like God has been keeping an eye on me.”
Arlene Durkee, a regular volunteer, said she enjoys doing the work.
“I think this is what people are supposed to do,” she said. “This is what life is supposed to be about.”
Durkee said she first became involved with the Grace Center through Trinity church, where she has been a lifelong member.
Blake Beath, 47, who also visits the center, said he has had his problems with alcohol in the past, but proudly declared he has been sober for about 12 months. Beath, a former client of the Action Inc. shelter, said there are some people who do not appreciate all that the Action shelter or Grace Center have to offer.
Beath said he spends most of his time with Rev. Ronald Gariboldi, the retired pastor at St. Ann’s Holy Family Parish. The two regularly talk, he said, and Gariboldi still stops by to play cribbage or stops by for a chat; Gariboldi even got Beath involved in a bible study program.
“People are against it (Action), not wanting it around,” Beath said, “They are ignorant to the problems in Gloucester.”
Bentley said volunteers and donations are always important and the other volunteers are still searching for a permanent location for the Grace Center.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.