Tallahassee’s homeless population can expect more space, more help and better accommodations when a new shelter opens in April. A new facility on West Pensacola Street is a major improvement over the city’s main homeless refuge.
Just off the intersection of West Pensacola and Dupree streets is a building that many hope will help eliminate the city’s challenges with homelessness. The new Comprehensive Emergency Services Center is still in the making. On a Monday afternoon, workers are painting the inside walls in light pastel colors and running cables and pipes through the interior. Electric saws whir, and nail guns fire. The air smells of sawdust and PVC and plaster. Outside, backhoes pound the earth to ready it for paving.
Center Director Chuck White says the facility will be a seven-million-dollar titan in the fight to end homelessness here. It will include a central space to monitor men and women clients and spacious kitchen, dining and living rooms.
“When we designed this, we designed it from the bottom up and we’re able to do things like this here, which really control operating costs for the shelter,” White says.
Women will live in the west wing; men in the east. Dividing the two wings will be a central corridor with rows of offices where agencies—such as the V-A—can help the homeless find work and move into their own homes. White says the homeless have historically fled shelters because of poor environments.
“Our hope was maybe we could break that chain by having a place that they don’t have to run away from and that they are well-cared for,” White says.
“It’s a huge struggle for people who become homeless, and a lot of times, there’s embarrassment or challenges to going to a shelter that doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t look welcoming, so we wanted to overcome that,” Rieter says.
Jacob Rieter is the director of The Shelter, the city’s main homeless refuge. He says advocates spent a lot of time ensuring the building looked good and would be safe. The new facility will have capacity for nearly 400 people at a time, but Rieter says he doesn’t expect to need more than 230-plus beds.
“Our hope is that we’re doing a good job is we’re helping people out of homeless into to housing and that increase doesn’t happen,” Rieter says.
White says volunteers have already agreed to help staff the kitchens and teach residents to cook. This is one of the many amenities, he says will help the residents become more employable. He says the stigma around homelessness often blinds to a large number of people who are struggling.
“People typically relate folks that are homeless to carrying lots of backs or pushing a cart, or carrying their possessions in backpacks and things of that sort, and that isn’t the only face of homelessness that’s out there,” White says.
White introduces one of the more than twenty homeless men whom he says are helping to build the new facility. The man who declined to give his name wears an FSU hoodie and hard hat and is mopping the floors. He says he became homeless after losing his job and turned to the Renaissance Community Center for help after odd jobs proved inconsistent.
“It’s hit and miss. It’s not a guaranteed employment. Since I’ve been over here, they’ve been keeping me pretty steady, trying to help me with relocation, housing, and all that, so it’s a pretty good deal,” says the worker.
The new facilities will include individual ADA-compliant shower stalls in both wings along with a general dining area for residents and a shower for people who are just passing through. On-site medical care will also be available. White says he plans to ensure homeless people who move in will be working their way to self-sufficiency.
“The catch on that is that it can be so nice that people may not want to leave. Well, that’s up to Jake and I to make that make sure that doesn’t happen, and to encourage people to move on when the time comes.
As for the worker from earlier, he doesn’t plan to stay in shelters any longer than he absolutely has to.
“I hope to be in my own spot. This is going to be one of the state of the art facilities, but I mean, the aim is to get your own, Get out and be a positive asset to society,” he says.
The facility is scheduled to open in the middle of April and will replace The Shelter on Tennessee Street.