Grant comes at ‘perfect time’ for homeless shelter

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It’s been six years since the House of Hope CDC took over running Harrington Hall, and finally Jean Johnson’s vision for the state’s largest men’s homeless shelter is coming to fruition.

Since 2009 the hall has undergone $1.5 million in renovations and construction is expected to finish this month. Thanks to an unexpected Neighborhood Builders Grant from Bank of America Rhode Island, House of Hope will have an additional $200,000 to kick-start the programs in the refurbished facility.

Johnson said the grant came at the “perfect time.”

The National Neighborhood Builders campaign has grown to become the “largest philanthropic commitment to help address community development, basic human services, workforce development and education,” Bank of America Rhode Island President Bill Hatfield said. In the past nine years of the program, 14 Rhode Island nonprofits have received a collective $2.8 million.

Organizations are asked to apply for the grant and then a committee made up of representatives from both Bank of America and members of the community select the award recipient.

House of Hope was invited to apply for the grant in early spring, and just a few weeks ago representatives went to Harrington Hall for a site visit. Johnson was surprised to see Hatfield show up for the tour as well.

“I was excited to see him, but it never dawned on me that they were there to give us the grant,” Johnson said.

The team from Bank of America never let on throughout the tour, despite the “busyness” of the day. Johnson said construction was going on around the tour, with a peer mentor class going on.

“They let me go on and on,” Johnson joked. “Finally, they said we were making a big impact for the homeless population and told me about receiving the grant. It wasn’t clicking and I asked ‘really?’”

The House of Hope has been invited to apply for several years now, but this is the first time they have received the Neighborhood Builders Grant. The money will go towards operations at Harrington Hall and employment training initiatives, including hiring a chef instructor for their teaching kitchen.

In an email Hatfield said that House of Hope doesn’t just provide shelter and services for the state’s homeless but is dedicated to ending homelessness throughout Rhode Island. He noted one of the employment training programs uses a commercial grade kitchen in Harrington Hall. Not only will this program provide meals for the men of the hall, but also provide men with the training and skills to enter into the food service industry.

“This unique solution to a devastating social problem is the kind of creative and holistic approach we look for when naming Neighborhood Builders,” Hatfield said. “The shelter addresses the immediate needs of its residents while preparing them for long-term financial stability, working to make the community stronger as a whole.”

House of Hope assumed management of Harrington Hall in 2009. From the start, Johnson emphasized not only providing shelter for the men, but also offering them the services to reintegrate into the community and eventually find employment and housing. The hall has been upgraded with new classrooms, bathrooms and flooring as well a kitchen that will be used not only to feed but train the 120 men of Harrington Hall.

Initially, Johnson said it didn’t look like anything was happening, especially at the height of construction when things were being torn down.

“We are going to have a wonderful facility,” Johnson said, “This is like a dream come true to see things finally coming together and have the men there respond so positively.”

Especially for those men “who knew what is was like way back when,” Johnson hopes those who use Harrington Hall know that the hall has transformed to be much more than just a shelter, but rather a space to receive a wide variety of services and help.

Johnson said, “This place is transformed. These men know that if they need or want help they can get it here to get them back on track.”

The day programs offered at Harrington Hall include, peer mentoring, substance abuse and psychological programs, employment training, GED and ESL courses and referral services. Women are also welcome for the day programs.

Harrington Hall has a large Thanksgiving dinner planned and an open house in December.

“We are doing amazing work here. We are excited, the volunteers are excited and the men are excited,” Johnson said.

As part of the Neighborhood Builders Grant, Johnson as well as a few members of her staff will attend national leadership training conferences, an opportunity Johnson is excited for.

“I think it’s always good to get out of your own space and see what the rest of the country is dealing with to share best practices,” she said.

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