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Day center a resource for homeless

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Interactive Resource Center

Interactive Resource Center

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Since it opened two years ago in space at Bessemer United Methodist Church about 3.5 miles northeast of downtown Greensboro, the Interactive Resource Center has served about 2,200 individuals who are homeless.

On a given day, roughly 70 people visit the center, which provides showers, a laundry, phones, case-management services, a nurse, counseling on housing and employment, a job-skills class, a computer room, and just a place to sit.

And at its new facility that opened April 1 in part of a 22,000-square-foot building at 407 East Washington St. downtown that formerly served as offices, manufacturing space and a warehouse for Southern Plate and Window Glass, the nonprofit expects to serve 150 to 200 people a day, says Liz Seymour, executive director.

With the decline in the region of the furniture, textile and tobacco industries, and high unemployment fueled by the economic downturn, she says, “one thing needed was a place for people to go during the day to get resources.”

The Resource Center grew out of task force convened by Dianne Bellamy-Small, a member of the Greensboro City Council.

In the fall of 2008, a committee of the task force that included members who had been homeless learned that Weaver House, a night shelter operated by Greensboro Urban Ministry, had been full the previous summer for the first time, signaling the winter was likely to be tough on the homeless, Seymour says.

So with planning support from the task force, and funds from local foundations and the city, the group opened offices in the church in January 2009.

And the Strasser family, which owns Southern Plate and Window Glass, donated the downtown building to the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, with the stipulation that it be used only as a day center for homeless people.

Operating with an annual budget of roughly $240,000 a year, the Resource Center has received about $750,000 for renovations to its new facility downtown, including $275,000 from Guilford County, $400,000 in federal stimulus funds from the City of Greensboro, $50,000 from the Cemala Foundation, $15,000 each from the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation and the Weaver Foundation, and $10,000 from VF Corp.

The Resource Center, which initially will occupy only 14,000 square feet in its new facility, eventually plans to generate revenue from the remaining space.

The Resource Center expects its annual budget to grow to $300,000 but aims to keep its current staffing of six-and-a-half employees.

“We’re hoping to do most of the increase through partnerships and volunteers,” Seymour says. “Most of our services are offered by outside agencies.”

The nurse who serves Resource Center clients, for example, is employed by the Congregational Nurse Program, a program of the Moses Cone Health System that is funded by the Cone Health Foundation and assigns nurses to work with local congregations.

And social workers who provide case-management services for the Resource Center all are interns from the joint social-work program at N.C. A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

A counselor from the Servant Center visits the Resource Center to help people in filling out their disability claims, and the Center also provides space for meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

The Resource Center also refers its clients to other agencies for particular services they may need.

And it counts on volunteers to help run its day-to-day operations and help develop its long-range plans.

So volunteers, many of them homeless, assist in the nonprofit’s computer lab and lunchroom, for example, and at the front desk.

“Everybody we’ve hired, including myself, started as a volunteer,” says Seymour, a former free-lance writer who worked for decorating magazines.

“When you’re homeless, you have a lot of time on your hands,” she says. “Being able to use that time is part of our program. It’s helpful to all of us.”

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