When Joe Lucero, Volunteer Coordinator of the Resurrection House (RH), sits down with a homeless client, he strives to put them at ease and each time manages to reach them, he says. He knows where they’ve been. Because from age 10 through 16, Joe was living on the streets of South Chicago.
“My mother was absent and I never knew my father,” says Joe, who today is a proud and enthusiastic man, married to his wife of 52 years, blessed with two sons, and serving as one of five paid personnel at the RH. “Sometimes this wonderful woman would take me in,” he said. “But I lived in cars and churches and went to school. Nuns and priests were my best friends. I had to steal to survive.”
The Resurrection House is a daily care facility for the homeless that picks up where others leave off in a strong network of providers helping these unfortunates.
“We don’t duplicate services and do a lot of networking to find the type of help each individual needs, and that is always different,” says Bill Wilson, who wears two hats as Acting Executive Director and Development Director of RH.
When the Salvation Army releases their sleep-over clients at 5:30 a.m., homeless individuals can go to the RH at 6 a.m. for a shower, meal, laundering of their clothes and most importantly, the ability to talk to an intake counselor who will determine their needs.
“We had a vet come in that needed multiple services and we brought in several case workers from different organizations like the YMCA, Coastal, and Jewish Children & Families Services” Bill said. “He felt like a rock star,” (with all that attention).
Some need a job and a bicycle. Others, a hair cut and their clothes washed. Yet others a storage locker for everything they own, which comes in the form of a 2’x4’ bin at the facility. All of them, however, just need someone to talk to.
They know this is a safe haven. A place they can rest and regroup,” Joe says. “Once I’ve gotten them to settle in and trust me, I’ll ask them about their siblings, aunts and relatives. Then I ask how they became homeless. “They often say, ‘no one’s ever asked me that.’”
Networks & Volunteers
Joe considers himself an expert in networking and has devised a flow chart referral book, which they call “Joe’s Book,” for every type of homeless individual (male, female, family, vets, etc.) that outlines their issues, and the facilities that RH can refer them to for those issues. Included are categories for Victim Services, Case Management, Substance Abuse, Mental Health, Jobs and Housing Assistance. SPARCC, Coastal, First Step, Renaissance Manor, the YMCA, Salvation Army, Jewish Children & Family Services, and SOLVE House are among the agencies RH refers to.
Joe also manages more than 150 volunteers. “It’s amazing, I tell my volunteers they own their area, and if they need to error, error at the side of caution…it works out well,” Joe says. He spoke of their good fortune in finding an MD and nurse who see clients two days a week. And of other doctors, lawyers, and even a scientist volunteering weekly – to repair bicycles, of all things.
“They’d rather get their hands dirty,” Joe said, stressing the importance of finding activities that fulfill the volunteers’ desires.
Connie, another sweet woman volunteer, comes in eight hours a week to maintain RH’s clothing section so their “Target store” is easily organized by types and sizes for anyone needing clothing. Donations come from a variety of individuals and they’re always welcoming clothing, non-perishable food items, and according to Connie – deodorant and work boots are at the top of their wish list.
In 1985, there were a handful of parishioners standing outside of The Church of the Redeemer and the sprinklers came on. Out popped Joy, a homeless woman, out of the bushes. They took her in, dried her off, fed her and found her shelter….and the rest is history, Bill said. While we don’t know where Joy is today, we do know that through the support of many churches, organizations and philanthropists, there are many women and men like Joy who are no longer in need of help.
Today more than 30 churches, individuals and organizations support RH which receives no governmental monies. Situated in an unassuming storefront with a tiny sign on the building on Kumquat Street in downtown Sarasota, the Resurrection House, Joe says, seems to be a ‘best kept secret,’ even though they spend countless hours talking to parishioners and raising funds to manage a $500,000 budget, a crew of 150+ volunteers, and welcoming at least 160 homeless a day.
A chapel, laundry area, clothing and food storage, lockers, storage container closet, showers and restrooms, a kitchen, a day room with simple chairs, a few offices, bicycle garage and a mural painted by a former client grace the approximately 20,000 square feet of this facility for the homeless. It’s functional, and so much more than the one room it started with in 1989.
Last year RH was seeing approximately 240 clients a day. Today, that number is down to 160. This tells them that they’re making a big dent in the population, who have found jobs, housing or have moved, Bill explains.
“We’re going to print “DOWN TO 160!” in our next newsletter, Bill says, “this is really great news.”
As we’re in the season of giving, and giving thanks for all we have, we might bring our attention to those who are less fortunate. And while there are no clear answers on how to end poverty and homelessness, most understand that rather than complaining, being complacent, or enabling the poor to remain in poverty, we might focus our efforts on leading them out of it.
“There are no broad brush answers for the homeless,” says Bill. “Each case is individual.”
One client wrote a letter to Joe expressing her thanks as she’s now working for a family business and has a roof over her head. “…I want to thank you for making my life easier without losing my dignity and pride…Thank you for caring, paying attention and genuinely showing concern for my well-being, especially on days I felt completely alone…”
For more information on donating to or volunteering for Resurrection House, visit the website at www.ressurrectionhousesarasota.org or call 941-365-3769.
Photos by Patti Pearson and Resurrection House Website