Michelle Gerald wasn’t sure when her first guest would walk through the door at Hope’s House, a new day center for Rome’s homeless that opened Tuesday at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.
As soon as she hung up a flyer at Heritage Park on Tuesday morning, a gentleman in his 30s who had been sleeping in the woods nearby asked her what it was.
“He said he didn’t know Rome well and was asking me where it was,” said Gerald, the creator and executive director of Hope’s House. “I told him to give me 30 minutes to finish hanging the flyers and I would come back and get him and take him there myself.”
It was a godsend for both of them.
“I was able to give him everything he needed. It felt so good,” she said Tuesday as she worked to organize mounds of various kinds of bread donated by the local Panera restaurant. “Today was a really, really good day.”
Connecting the man to Highland Rivers Health for behavioral services and Northwest Georgia Housing Authority to begin an application for a home of his own was exactly what he needed, she said.
To know someone out there cared about him also was vital, she said.
“He kept talking about how depressed he was and he kept breaking down and crying,” said Gerald, who worked in case management at Highland Rivers for several years. “I told him to stop apologizing and to just let it out. ‘Cleanse yourself,’ I told him.”
After more than two years in the making, Gerald is finally seeing her dream of having her own day center and resource facility come to life, thanks to the support of her husband, Johnny Gerald, her longtime friend and Hope’s House Life Coach Mauricia Pledger, her board of directors and many other community members along the way.
She held her Grand Opening Monday night to introduce the 1930s renovated home across from Relax Inn and Enterprise Car Rental to more than 20 community members.
Pledger guided tours throughout the eight-room home, pointing out the computer room with four Dell desktops for job-hunting and resource-researching, the discussion room for group sessions, the entertainment room with a large flat-screen TV and movies, the den with comfy couches and the large activities room for crafts and games.
Gerald envisions providing nursing care, spiritual support, snacks, craft classes, counseling and a wide range of other support services as needs arise.
“This is such a blessing,” said Betty Gibson, a staff member at Hospitality House for Women. “It’s been my heart’s desire for 10 years. I know the need and it is great. Now people will have somewhere to go during the day.”
Local homeless shelters such as The Salvation Army and Davies Shelters do not allow their guests to be at the shelters between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
This is to enable them to follow their individualized plans to seek other services, jobs and permanent housing during the day.
The need for a centralized day facility like Hope’s House had been raised at several Homelessness Task Force meetings over the past several months.
Sam Buice, who ministers at the Rome Community Kitchen and helps provide meals through Living Water Ministries, said Tuesday he feels Hope’s House was sent by God. He’s planning on taking a van full of homeless folks over there Wednesday after they’ve had their meal at Community Kitchen.
“It’s really nice,” Buice said. “It looks like it’s going to be a great resource. It’s perfect timing, too. We just started a new feeding location at 1013 Martha Berry Blvd. near Pizza Hut and that’s just around the corner from Hope’s House.”
Gerald said she’s finishing up the final required paperwork for her 501(c)3 application — a process that has added a few more gray hairs to her soft curly locks.
“It was so complicated,” she said with a heavy sigh. “It’s finally just about done and I’ll be able to file it soon. But I just know this is what I was meant to do. The gentleman I helped this morning definitely solidified that for me. It was a slow day, but it was a good day for sure.”