The Salvation Army’s Homeless Resource Day Center opens as ‘beacon of light’ in Fort Myers

By: Brad Rowland

With the stated goal to provide a respite for those experiencing homelessness in the community, The Salvation Army opened the Homeless Resource Day Center (HRDC) in Fort Myers, Florida. The Salvation Army worked closely with Lee County Department of Human and Veteran Services, and with local authorities, serving a pivotal role in creating the initiative.

After several months of preparing and retrofitting the space, the grand opening arrived on Jan. 26, 2021 and, while the center opened with a Monday through Friday schedule, that quickly pivoted to a six-day week.

“Discussions really began in October and November with the county,” said Terryn Streets, social services ministry director in Fort Myers.“ They provided a lot of the financial support needed to get up and running, and to make sure we were able to set it up in the way we needed to accommodate people. They have been wonderful partners of ours. Whatever we need, they’re right there.”

Streets indicate that the local area is experiencing a “homeless crisis that has only been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” and shares that homeless prevention is a “prime topic” in the community. With that as the backdrop, partner agencies are coming together, and the work to establish the space was speedy in nature.

“We give all credit to our maintenance department because they took what should have been a six or seven-month job and did it in approximately two months,” Streets said. “They transformed the space quickly and made it functional, including the creation of office space and the modification of classroom space. It’s been a huge change because the community was not yet familiar with what we’d be offering. But now we have more space which lets us help so many more people, which is tremendous for the community.”

The center provides wide-ranging services include access to laundry facilities, showers, and a clothing closet, as well as lunch, snacks, emotional and spiritual, referrals, and comprehensive case management. The HRDC operates from 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, with no-cost life skills classes now offered twice a week. The life skills classes cover topics including goal setting, interviewing, and job seeking, with the potential expansion to on-site medical assistance at the center through a partnership with a local provider.

“The Salvation Army aims to walk alongside those struggling with homelessness,” said Major Carlyle Gargis, area commander. “Our hope is that anyone needing assistance can walk through these doors and find it. We want to get to the root of their current challenges that are keeping them from finding stable living.”

All told, the HRDC provides access to wrap-around services via The Salvation Army, and also presents the ability to meet with on-site partner agency representatives. That combination helps to meet the basic needs of individuals and families holistically, with both care and compassion.

“Because the homeless crisis locally is such a hot topic, I believe it’s given The Salvation Army an opportunity for those that either didn’t know what we were doing or perhaps marginalized the work to see the good that is coming out of what we’re able to do,” Streets said. “One of those pivotal things is our emotional and spiritual care, including our soldiers that come on a daily basis to help to bridge the spiritual and the practical, tangible assistance.”

“We want everyone to know that this is a place that we want to be a beacon of light for people. It may take patience, and compassion is key, but we want to be able to meet people at their point of need. That need may be different day by day, and we know that each individual arrives at our doors with their only story, and their own needs. We aren’t cookie-cutter. We take each person as an individual and as their own story… Homelessness can affect many individuals in a matter of circumstances. Many of us are just one crisis away from experiencing similar challenges, and our aim is to meet that need in a targeted way.”