In the course of only one month since the opening of Hope’s House, Michelle Gerald has managed to create a safe, friendly refuge for Rome’s homeless in the daylight hours.
The renovated 1930s home at 1110 N. Fifth Ave. is the first such day center and resource facility in Rome that specifically caters to those needing help navigating the various social services available in the area for an estimated 350 to 400 vulnerable residents living in shelters, tents, vehicles and motels.
The Davies Shelter, Salvation Army and others do not permit their guests to be at the shelters between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. because their philosophy is their residents should be out working, looking for work or getting other things done to secure a better life for themselves.
Gerald, who has worked in the social services field for more than 30 years, knows Hope’s House wouldn’t be operating successfully without the generosity and guidance of others and that there’s still a lot of work to do to provide the support and resources so desperately needed by those struggling to get on their feet.
“People have been wonderful, coming out of the woodwork donating things to Hope’s House,” the former Highland Rivers case manager said Friday as a handful of guests enjoyed hot jambalaya and cornbread she’d made for the daily lunch. “My goal is to be the Walmart of support services — a one-stop shop. If I can get as many agencies as possible in here to do things for people instead of having people running here and there to get things done, that is my goal.”
Tracking down a representative from Assurance Wireless, for instance, to come in to help folks sign up for free Lifeline Service through Virgin Mobile has been a chore, she said.
“I call them and they can’t even tell me where their field representatives are,” Gerald said with a sigh, explaining basic items like cellphones and identification are vital for those trying to find work and become self-sufficient.
She is grateful some Cigna enrollment agents will be going in to help those needing health insurance weigh their options.
Registered nurses from Mercy Care also will be providing basic health checks and assisting seniors with employment options.
Workshops by local Labor Department and Career Center representatives also will be offered soon, she said.
“Sam Buice of Living Water Ministries has been coming in and having Bible studies and that’s been great,” the Dallas resident said as she enjoyed collard greens made by friend Sheila Watkins.
Davies Shelter guest Richard — a tall, bearded man with a gentle disposition — was one of the more than a dozen people who had stopped by the house Friday for a meal or a quick inquiry.
Richard said he left his hometown of Dalton for Rome several months ago after he realized Rome had more resources available for those falling on hard times.
“Moving down here was the best decision I made in my life because within three months I’ve been able to get more done than I could ever do in Dalton,” said Richard, father of 7-year-old twins trying to gain visitation rights after not seeing them for the past six years. “The transit system here is so much better here and I’ve been able to enroll in school to become a welder.”
Gerald said she, too, has been struggling a bit financially when it comes to securing the lease payment for Hope’s House. She’d taken $10,000 out of her retirement account to renovate the building and has secured rent through the end of this month with the help of others.
She hasn’t been able to apply for grants yet as she is still waiting for the required 501(c)3 paperwork to go through. But she’s working on getting a new website up that will include a “donate” button and she’s planning a couple of fundraisers to keep the lights on.
“It’ll work out,” she said with a smile, reminding folks to keep an eye on the Hope’s House Facebook page for announcements of the latest needs. “God hasn’t let me down yet, so I’m staying faithful.”