By Cynthia Mewborn
Vendor , C=MB
It is said that when one door closes another door opens, but in the case of the Hermano Pedro Day Shelter Program, homeless advocates aren’t so sure.
In mid-October, word began to spread that the program, operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, would be closing, due to the loss of $400,000 in funding from the city Department of Mental Health (DMH). The news has worried homeless men and women who have received help from the six-year-old multicultural center, located in Columbia Heights.
They say that the services provided by Hermano Pedro fill important needs. The program, which is open from 7:30am to 4pm, provides two meals a day to homeless individuals who can also use the shower facilities, wash clothes, attend 12-step meetings, and receive counseling. Homeless people can also receive assistance in obtaining social security cards, birth certificates and work on finding permanent housing there. The day shelter, open to both men and women, also offers afternoon activities and has low entry barriers. The center also refers clients with special needs to other facilities.
City officials stress that the diverse population of homeless who participate in the program will be referred to Thrive DC program which is located nearby. However, Thrive DC has limited hours and services: for example males can only receive services from 8:30-11am then the facility reopens from 3-6pm for women only.
Eric Sheptock, Chairman of the grassroots homeless advocacy group SHARC (Shelter, Housing and Respectful Change), said he is concerned that Thrive DC will not be able to provide the same services to current clients with the addition of the Hermano Pedro clients. At a recent SHARC meeting, a group of 25 people affected by homelessness, gathered to express their concerns. Some noted that the city needs more day programs to serve its estimated 7,000 homeless residents – not fewer.
Some offered praise for Hermano Pedro. Odile Kala, said she found help there. “Hermano Pedro is like going to grandma’s house.”
Charles Witherspoon, a former client commented that the organization helped him find permanent housing.
“The impression I received from all the staff was very professional, caring, warm and friendly,” Witherspoon said.
SHARC also had the opportunity to meet with city Department of Mental Health Director Stephen T. Baron and other DMH officials. Department spokeswoman Phyllis Jones said the DMH plans to use the $400,000 to expand mental health services to the homeless in a variety of ways, including adding a bilingual staffmember to an outreach team that serves day centers around the city and paying for additional rental subsidies to move Latino and justice-involved homeless people into housing.
“Our goal is to move more people from homelessness to self-sufficiency,” she said in a telephone interview.
Jones said that Hermano Pedro is scheduled to close in early December.
But officials at Catholic Charities, which operated Hermano Pedro , said they were working to prevent any harm that might result in closing the day center as the weather grows cold.
“ We are continuing to work with the DC Department of Mental Health to manage the potential loss and closure of the Hermano Pedro Program, with the immediate safety and health of the homeless clients who use the program first and foremost as winter approaches,” said Eric Salmi, director of communications Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
And homeless advocates at SHARC remain hopeful that the services will continue indefinitely and is communication with the Department of Human Services regarding this plea. SHARC stresses the needs this day program addresses are critical and necessary until permanent housing can be provided for all homeless individuals.