A year ago at this time, the Grace Center was in its fledgling stages.
Forged at the same time the Action Inc. shelter faced questions over its expansion, and at a time of growing concern over the city’s homeless population “hanging out” during daytime hours at the Sawyer Free Library, the Rose Baker Senior Center and other venues, the new “center” seemed to address a clear need.
But would a social service program that was, as Rev. and co-founder Thomas Bentley noted, essentially homeless itself, gain credibility within the targeted community and the city as a whole? And would it be able to meet its visitors’ needs?
The answer to those questions now seems to be a resounding “yes.” And that’s a tribute to folks like Rev. Bentley of Trinity Congregational Church, retired Holy Family parish pastor Rev. Ronald Gariboldi, Rector Bret Hays of St. John’s Episcopal Church, social worker Samantha Alves and so many other people who helped conceive the project and who have worked hard to bring it to fruition.
A year after its founding, the program — which rotates among Trinity, St. John’s and the Unitarian Universalist churches — is not only supplying a place for the area’s homeless and needy to visit before the Action shelter opens at 5 p.m. It’s also steering the 200 or so people toward the services they need, and has, as Hays rightfully noted, re-established local churches as a place for those within the community to seek and get help.
The Grace Center — like Action Inc., Cape Ann’s only residential facility for those needing temporary shelter — will not eliminate Gloucester’s homeless population. It’s unlikely that any agency can or will wipe out the problem, here or virtually anywhere else.
But the Grace Center is clearly filling in what had been a significant gap in needed social services, and has clearly gained the confidence of those who need and use it. That’s a glowing tribute to a group of organizers and volunteers who saw a need, had a vision for addressing it — and followed it through.
Cheers go out to everyone involved.