Stark County's only men's shelter has already outgrown the addition it built six years ago.
CANTON It will be some time before Refuge of Hope can cut the ribbon on a new facility, but for staffers, the moment can't come soon enough.
Stark County's only men's shelter has already outgrown the addition it built six years ago. There are plans and prayers underway to build a larger, $4 million facility on donated land about a block north of Refuge's current building at 405 Third St. NE.
Although the ministry has been successful in helping a growing number of clients secure permanent housing, the demand for services remains unabated, said Scott Schnyders, shelter director.
The current average stay, he said, is 120 days. Last year, the shelter provided 16,408 nights of emergency shelter for single men.
Between 2014 and 2016, 307 shelter residents moved into permanent supportive housing, with assistance from a host of collaborative of agencies, including ICAN, the Alliance for Children and Families and the YWCA's Rapid Rehousing program. A grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation helps with apartment security deposits, up to $400. The ministry also has a partnership with Synchrony Financial for furnishing former clients with the basics including linens, a sofa and kitchen utensils.
"That's really helped with the level of turnover," Schnyders said, adding that 38 men have secured housing this year.
Permanent housing, Schnyders said, reduces stress and can change a person's outlook.
"One guy told me he was 40 years old and never had a key to his own house," he said.
"Even with all these people moving out, we're still housing 46 to 48 people a night, though our capacity is 34 beds," said Jo Ann Carpenter, director of development.
Spike in young adults
The ministry recently kicked off its the campaign for its capital project with a presentation to six community foundations, Carpenter said. A public campaign will begin later this year, with hopes that a new facility will be open by 2019.
The new proposal will include expanding the dining area from 110 to 200 seats, enlarging the kitchen and food pantry, adding storage and office space, a chapel, a community room and increasing the sleeping capacity from 34 to 66 beds, including a separate sleeping quarters for men who work third shift jobs. There are also plans for a dedicated conference and training room.
The First Church of the Resurrection, Habitat for Humanity and the city have donated parcels of land for the project.
"It will depend on how quickly we raise the funding," Carpenter said. "We won't dig a hole in the ground until that's secure."
So far, $914,300 has been pledged.
Schnyders estimates that about one-third of the men served struggle with some type of mental health issues; half of the clients have had issues with substance abuse.
"We're seeing a difference in the kinds of drugs people are using," he said. "The last five years, we've been seeing people who are 18 to 24. The vast majority are heroin users trying to get clean. They don't tend to stay long."
"We're also seeing that in the meal ministry," Carpenter said. "We've seen a spike in people 18 to 24."
Safety and sobriety
During the week, Refuge of Hope serves free meals to families and children. They served 96,148 meals last year. The number is projected to climb to 99,000 in 2017.
A 2016 report by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank estimates that 15.7 percent of Stark County's population struggles with food insecurity.
Refuge's Executive Director Duane Wykoff said the agency works because it emphasizes safety, sobriety and accountability. Clients must take nightly alcohol breath tests and are screened for drugs. Those who don't pass, don't stay. Same with clients caught panhandling.
"We're not running a hotel for guys to drink and get high," he said.
Schnyders said most of the men are talented, intelligent and are willing to work, adding that many do volunteer tasks at the shelter.
"They begin to see themselves as valuable again," he said, adding that he's even helped a few get jobs.
"I tell people who get jobs, 'It's not just about you, it's also about the next 10 guys,'" he said.
"A lot of these guys just need a second chance," Wykoff said. "If I had a business, I'd hire them in a minute. We've had several guys come back and donate."
Wykoff said he views Refuge of Hope as an investment.
"'Invest' is a good word," he said. "We as a staff, invest our time. They need that second chance and to know that someone cares."
Schnyders said their clientele has included men with advanced degrees who simply have had a setback.
"You'd see people here you'd never expect," he said.
Plans to expand have brought a positive response.
"I really believe it will be good for the city," he said. "It's an opportunity to serve more people and an opportunity for those doing the serving. We want them to be proud members of the community. I think it's going to be a wonderful opportunity the Refuge of Hope and Canton."
Schnyders said the ministry is open to conversations and collaborations with other agencies and "like-minded people," adding that they're in the process of identifying more needs.
"We're not looking to take over other people's services," he said. "We're not looking to duplicate."
For more information, visit www.refugeofhope.org or call 330-453-1785.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @cgoshayREP