The July 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Corruption at Oakland Housing Authority

Shot Through the Heart in S.F.

Legal Challenge to Cruel Attacks on SF Homeless

GRIP's Shelter in Richmond

HUD Plans to Demolish Public Housing in New Orleans

Fresno Homeless Attacked

Stonewalling by Bush's ICH on Homeless Issues

Are We Not Our Brother's Keeper

Congress Refuses to Raise the Minimum Wage

Beyond Prisons: Challenge to the Prison System

Penal Servitude

The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap

Poor Working Conditions for Immigrants

AFSC Sues Defense Dept. for Surveillance

Surveillance and Orwell's 1984

Enron's Good Fight

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Self-Realization

July Poetry of the Streets

Child Slavery on African Cocoa Farms

The Worth of Education in the Phillipines


ARCHIVES

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Something of a Miracle

Faith groups, city officials and neighbors work together to build a comprehensive new center for homeless families in Richmond

by Lydia Gans

Art Hatchett, executive director of Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, proudly shows off the new shelter's modern kitchen. Lydia Gans photo

"It's something of a miracle," says GRIP Board Member Dorothy Herzberg, as she talks of the history of the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, which has been providing a broad range of services for homeless and poor people in the Richmond area for 40 years now.

GRIP was formed by clergy of many different faiths representing almost 40 congregations in 1966, at a time when there was rioting and social unrest in many of our cities. The founding members "resolved to unite our thoughts and actions... to work together to address issues of racial unrest, economic disparity and social justice."

Over the years, GRIP has started many programs; some of them have spun off to become independent operations and others remain affiliated. For the past 14 years, GRIP has operated the Souper Center at 165 22nd Street in Richmond.

Every day, the center serves a hot meal to anywhere from 150 to 200 people. They also offer a number of essential services for people who are homeless -- showers, laundry facilities, mail and phone access, as well as case management to help them get their lives back on track.

During the winter, for 20 weeks from November until the end of March, GRIP has been running a family shelter program. It's quite a complex operation and, like the daily meal program, involves the cooperation and coordination of the 40 congregations that make up GRIP.

The Souper Center could not accommodate an overnight shelter, so the churches have been filling that need. Churches rotated among themselves so that each congregation would be the nighttime shelter for one or two weeks at a time. In the evening, a bus would pick up families at the Souper Center and take them to the congregation site, and then bring them back in the morning. For 12 years, they have managed to keep the program going. A rotating shelter is better than being out in the cold, but the constant moves are certainly stressful for everybody involved.

Now things will be different. As of July 2006, a newly built Souper Center will provide shelter, as well as food and services for homeless families in Richmond. GRIP Director Art Hatchett has had a lot to do with making it happen. Due to his 27 years of working for the City of Richmond as director of Housing and Development, he knows his way around and has learned well how to get things done.

Hatchett's energy and enthusiasm motivate everyone who works with him. His compassion for people who are homeless inspired the design of a building that is meant to serve not just the physical needs, but the emotional and spiritual needs of its users as well.

He took me on a tour of the new building, pointing with pride at the state-of-the-art kitchen, the large walk-in refrigerator and freezer, and an efficiently designed serving set-up in the spacious dining room. Also on the ground floor is a resource training center equipped with computers and a children's play area. There are laundry facilities and showers, offices for the staff and storage lockers for the 18 families that will be staying there.

Upstairs, 18 rooms of different sizes can accommodate small and large families. Pairs of rooms are arranged as suites with a communal living room, encouraging the families to develop bonds of friendship. The rooms are bright, with large windows looking out on, well, different views. Those along one side face the parking lot and BART tracks; those facing other directions present more inspiring views. Art showed me his favorite, a corner room looking out to the east over a wide panorama of open fields and hills, and his second favorite, another corner room with views in two directions.

Any of the 18 rooms can serve either as emergency shelter or transitional housing, depending on the family's circumstances. For example, in the case of a battered woman or someone with a medical problem or temporarily out of work, the family might need emergency shelter which lets them stay three months, and can be extended for up to six months.

For the chronically homeless, Hatchett explains that "they might need transitional housing because they have to get trained or might have drug or rehabilitation problems." Those in transitional housing can stay for up to a year and extend for an additional six months. In any case, they are all housed in the second-floor rooms; short-term and longer-term families are not in separate parts of the building.

Hatchett was a member of the GRIP Board of Directors at a time when they would discuss the difficulty of running a rotating shelter operation. GRIP members decided to find a single, permanent site for the winter shelter program. In the Spring of 1999, Hatchett started looking, but it was very discouraging; there seemed to be nothing around that could accommodate so many people.

He began to explore the possibility of building above the Souper Center. "We wouldn't have to worry about the NIMBY thing," he explained. "Trying to go and find a place, saying that I want to build a shelter for homeless families, that was difficult.... We came back home."

They began with the idea of building the shelter above the Souper Center and remodeling the downstairs of the Center to accommodate GRIP offices; but they found the perimeter walls couldn't hold a second story. Ultimately, they decided to demolish the building, Hatchett said, "and that's how we ended up getting the 12,000-square-foot, two-story building."

With great enthusiasm, he says, "Everything will be here. All the services, the great kitchen, special areas for children." The cost will be something under $4 million, with money coming from the State of California, the City of Richmond and a great deal of fundraising.

Although the Souper Center had been at the site for many years, the increase in the size of the operation will have some impact on the neighborhood. Hatchett says, "So I met with the neighborhood council and I explained the concept to them, and they were pretty much in agreement; except there was one person saying (it will) bring our housing values down, and so on. It was a good time, because during November we had just opened the winter shelter at Faith Tabernacle on McDonald. I said, 'Okay, I'll come back in January. Anybody that has doubts just go there, look and see what you're going to see, and see what you think and then come back and decide.'

"So when I came back in January, he hadn't been there; but some of the other members of the neighborhood council had been there and they were just elated. Just like we did, you fall in love with the families and the kids. It's just people trying to make their lives better most of the time, because they'd been in really unfortunate situations, circumstances not really their own fault. So the council voted unanimously to support the project. And they've gone a step further: They've actually wanted to adopt the concept too."

Hatchett is pleased that the neighbors are talking about volunteering at the Souper Center, making donations and planning special events for kids. He also expects some of the neighborhood organizations will hold their meetings in the building since it is so conveniently located.

On July 1, 2006, they celebrated the opening of the new Souper Center. The process has taken a long time, a little over five years. Yet surprisingly, Art asserts, "It's been a great experience for us."

He describes the project team, with himself representing the owner, an architect and three staff people from the builder, Oliver Construction Company. He has high praise for Oliver, a local company that does excellent work and likes working with nonprofits.

All in all, it looks like they've done all the right things to continue the stated mission of GRIP to "address critical issues of human dignity and social justice, celebrate the diversity of our multi-cultural community and respond to critical needs of hunger and homelessness in out midst."


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