|NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar talks with Rick Presbrey, CEO of HAC, and Michael Sweeney, HAC's vice president of administration and finance, at the opening of the day center.|
“The place is booming,” HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said to Michael Sweeney, HAC’s vice president of administration and finance, in the parking lot outside the NOAH Shelter the day before Memorial Day weekend was set to begin.
“I think it is stunning,” Sweeney added.
“It shows you people are interested,” Presbrey said.
That interest is in a new program – a day center for the homeless – HAC ushered in at the end of last month.
Expectations for the program were modest. Greg Bar, director for the NOAH Shelter, said prior to the opening that he would be pleased if anywhere from six to a dozen people showed up on any given day. On the first day those expectations were shattered when more than two dozen homeless men and women accessed the shelter.
Some used the shelter for rest, others for socialization and still others as a way to get off the streets, working with HAC’s employment specialist Carolann Gillard to find jobs and with HAC’s housing specialist Derick Bussiere to find permanent housing.
The day center is a pilot program and a collaboration of several municipal and local organizations – the town of Barnstable, the Barnstable Police Department, Duffy Health Center, the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District and HAC – to provide shelter to homeless individuals during the day.
Through Labor Day NOAH will be open an additional 37 hours per week with the possibility that will increase in the fall and winter. The program requires all guests to be dry, meaning no client can be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While there are future plans to offer more learning and social opportunities – art and computer classes and financial assistance have all been mentioned as possibilities - Bar said he plans on “keeping it pretty simple right now,” stressing that he wants to focus on providing only the essentials initially: shelter, food and access to employment and housing services.
Tangible Benefits to Clients
He gave two specific examples of how the day program can help current clients, starting with Casey (his name has been changed) who does not drink or do drugs, but has medical issues for which he has to take prescription medicine. “When he takes his meds he falls asleep and when he does he falls asleep outside on a bench,” Bar said. “With the day center he can put his bags down and go to sleep here.”
Similarly, Sue (her name has been changed) has mental problems so severe she sits outside on benches, rocking back and forth while talking to herself. “Maybe she can come inside our dining room and have a safer place to do that,” Bar said. “This gives an option for people to come and be safe and they will be in a caring environment and will be more exposed to our housing and employment advocates.”
Ultimately, Bar said, he will judge the success of the program much differently than others, but if the first day was any indication HAC is taking a major step to serving an unmet need on Cape Cod.
Mitchell Rose, a 27-year-old Cape native who has found himself homeless, said NOAH has served as an invaluable resource as he takes small steps toward independence. “They all seem like they generally care for us and that helps keep you motivated to do what you need to do to get out of here,” he said.
He has aspirations to become an EMT or paramedic and views the day center as a safe and secure environment where he can study and do his homework, efforts that will one day translate into having a home to call his own. “I am sick of living like this because it is not easy living like this,” he said. “It can be a job in and of itself, being homeless.”
Presbrey said that those like Rose are indicative of how important the day shelter is. “It is a beautiful day out today,” he said, noting that these clients could have chosen to be elsewhere. “But they came because they like the safety and the acceptance of NOAH and they are willing to engage and seek out the help they need to get better.”