Dorothy Day House builds a village for homeless families on Peabody Avenue

With to a recent $500,000 challenge grant from the Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Dorothy Day House, a nonprofit shelter that helps intact families who are experiencing homelessness, is getting the chance to expand its services to more families in need.

“For years, we’ve dreamt of having a village – having houses in close proximity so that we could have a larger physical presence in the city,” said Sister Maureen Griner, Dorothy Day House executive director. “Even the possibility of that was vague because so many people don’t want homeless people in their neighborhoods.”

Dorothy Day House had attempted to buy a house further west on Peabody many years ago and had met stiff opposition from some in that neighborhood.

Related: "Dorothy Day House meets homelessness and the need for living wage in Memphis"

“When we heard that Church Health Center was moving to Crosstown, we went to them to find out what they were doing with their buildings,” said Griner.

The three houses that Dorothy Day House decided were best suited for family use included 1178 Peabody Avenue, 1161 Peabody Avenue and 321 Bellevue Boulevard just around the corner. Church Health donated the home at 1178 Peabody to the organization, and Dorothy Day House is purchasing the other two.

The Assisi Foundation grant will be paid in two installments over the next two fiscal years as Dorothy Day House raises $250,000 in new matching pledges for each phase. The grant furthers Dorothy Day House’s progress towards its goal of raising $5 million to pay for the expansion.

“We have a capital campaign that we launched in September of 2016,” said Griner. “Over a five-year period, the purchase and renovation of the three houses will cost $2 million, the new staff will be $1 million, and operational costs for the four houses will be about $2 million.”

The organization provides whatever families need to get back on their feet, including food, clothes, shoes, and even haircuts, and then helps them find jobs, reliable transportation and an apartment or house. Once they find a home, Dorothy Day House furnishes it for them.

Dorothy Day was an activist during the Depression who lived in New York City. She was very concerned about the homeless that were standing in soup lines, so she opened her own building. Day was anti-establishment, believing neither the government nor the church should take care of the poor.

“So in the spirit of Dorothy Day, we don’t take government money that has red tape of lots of paperwork,” said Griner, whose group gets one no-strings-attached grant from the Shelby County Commission every year.

Looney Ricks Kiss handled the designs for the first home to be renovated at 1178 Peabody, and Montgomery Martin Contractors is doing the construction work. Griner hopes work will begin in October on the very dilapidated home. The interior will be completely reworked, including busting out walls to enlarge the kitchen.

“We’re really starting from scratch,” said Griner. “All of the heating and air, electrical, and plumbing need to be replaced.”

Each of the new homes will house three families, so along with Dorothy Day House’s original property at 1429 Poplar Avenue, the expansion will quadruple its capacity for serving entire families experiencing homelessness.

On October 29, Dorothy Day House will hold a comfort food festival fundraiser at Overton Square, and its annual Christmas wreath and garland sale kicks off in October throughout the city.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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