Chapel Hill News

IFC celebration marks new start for Chapel Hill shelter, homeless men

Nearly 30 years of hard work, community and dreams will culminate Monday in the dedication of the SECU Community House to helping homeless men start over.

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service will hold a ribbon-cutting at 8 a.m. at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Construction started last fall and was still wrapping up this week on the 52-bed, $5.76 million men’s transitional shelter. Residents will move in Thursday.

Ground-floor space will provide emergency shelter for 17 more men when temperatures turn cold. A commercial kitchen, dining room and the Chris Moran Library – named for the IFC’s former longtime executive director – anchor the second-story living quarters.

The 16,543-square-foot building is bright, clean and spacious. It’s a far cry from the worn, 77-year-old shelter, a former Town Hall building whose basement was a jail, at 100 W. Rosemary St. downtown.

“You might kind of take it for granted,” said Michael Reinke, the IFC’s new executive director, “but all the windows and the natural light and the green around, there’s been studies done that they say actually having people be able to look at natural environment – trees and grass and things like that – actually improves people’s health.”

Reinke also expects shorter lines for daily tasks: Community House has seven showers, nearly twice as many as the old shelter, and commercial-size laundry machines. There’s even a single-occupancy bathroom on the ground floor for transgender residents, he said.

“Then there’s all the things you dream about for a shelter,” he said, showing off ground-floor health and dental clinics, and offices where residents can talk privately with volunteer psychiatrists and counselors.

Piedmont Health Services will operate the medical and dental clinics, he said. The Kenan Charitable Trust and UNC Health Care helped with their construction and also provided medical equipment. The Carol Woods Retirement Community donated exercise equipment and the Friends of the Carrboro Cybrary are stocking the library.

UNC is leasing the 1.66-acre site to the town of Chapel Hill at $1 a year for 50 years; the IFC will sublease the land from the town.

Community House is built to be energy-efficient and designed to accommodate men in different stages of transition, Reinke said.

Someone just figuring out his next steps will bunk in a large room with up to seven others. Residents can move into a four-person room with more windows as they reach the next stage.

They should be working, at that point, or seeking interviews, attending classes or learning a trade, Reinke said. Up to half of the shelter’s residents work now, he said, although it may be just a part-time job.

They can choose a double-occupancy room at the third stage of progress, he said.

“Then the really big thing, is you get your own key,” he said. “In terms of what that signals, in terms of, ‘OK, I’m at a point where I’m taking care of myself. I can go into my room whenever I want.’ The evening supervisor may come in, but (they’ll) have a sense of privacy.”

Reinke was hired in August and has been working with retiring executive director John Dorward.

Dorward led the agency through the last two years of fundraising and construction. Community House is being paid for with a $1 million donation from the State Employees Credit Union, a $500,000 competitive grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, and donations from individuals and more than two dozen congregations and faith-based groups.

The Town Council approved plans for the shelter in 2011 after a contentious public debate about how to screen men using the emergency cots and whether a site near parks, homes and daycares was appropriate.

Emergency guests will be screened at the IFC office in Carrboro and taken to Community House. A Good Neighbor Plan was drafted to deal with other concerns, and the Community House Advisory Committee will serve as a liaison between the IFC and its neighbors.

The IFC also operates Project HomeStart, a shelter for homeless women and their children located a half-mile from Community House on Homestead Road. Both shelters are nearly invisible from surrounding streets and properties.

“We did that intentionally, because we didn’t want to be a dominant presence in the neighborhood,” Reinke said.

The Community Kitchen will stay at 100 W. Rosemary St. until a long-planned FoodFirst center and new IFC offices are built in Carrboro.

Reinke said he expects fewer people to hang around the kitchen in the old Town Hall building once residents move. The Town Council is considering whether to sell or redevelop the building.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

If you go

The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service will hold a ribbon-cutting Monday, Sept. 21, at the Inter-Faith Council @ SECU Community House.

The public event starts with the ribbon-cutting at 8 a.m., followed by a reception and open house until 11 a.m. The Community House is located at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Parking is available at United Church of Chapel Hill.

Those interested in attending the event are asked to RSVP at ifcweb.org/rsvp or 919-929-6380, ext. 15.

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