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VOL. 132 | NO. 177 | Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dorothy Day House Plants New Roots in Midtown

By Patrick Lantrip

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Sister Maureen Griner, the executive director of the Memphis chapter of the Dorothy Day House, says that every night in Memphis there are about 160 families who will be sleeping in a shelter or somewhere inhabitable.

Considering her organization’s location at 1429 Poplar Ave. can only house three of those families at a time, Griner said the nonprofit has been looking to expand its footprint in order to help more homeless families in the Memphis get back on their feet for quite some time now.

“From the very beginning we really wanted to have what we referred to as a village, we wanted more houses so we could serve more homeless families,” she said. “When we learned that Church Health was leaving the Peabody-Bellevue area, we approached them and asked what is going to happen with all these properties.”

After touring the soon-to-be-vacated properties, they settled on three houses – 1178 Peabody, 1161 Peabody and 321 S. Bellevue.

1161 Peabody is one of the three Midtown properties acquired from Church Health in the expansion of the Dorothy Day House. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

Griner said that Church Health donated the first property to her organization and agreed to sell the other two at a greatly reduced price.

“We are in the midst of a $5 million capital campaign to get those houses,” she said. “They are just waiting on us to have the money to purchase them.”

Griner said that they been working on the capital campaign since September 2016, and they’ve already raised $1.5 million, which she said is pretty miraculous as far as she’s concerned.

“It’s important to note that the $5 million covers a five-year span, so it’s not like we are trying to open three houses immediately,” Tracy Burgess, Dorothy Day’s director of development & communications said.

Burgess said that of the $5 million, $2 million will go toward the purchase and renovation of the houses, $2 million would be allotted for operational costs, and $1 million would be used to bring on additional staff to care for the new properties.

For this project, The Dorothy Day house tapped Montgomery Martin Contractors to handle construction and LRK Inc. for the design work

“The contract is signed and we hope they will start by Oct. 1,” Griner said. “As soon as they start (construction), we will start the design work on the second house. We hope it will just be continuous once we get it going.”

The two women said it was very fortunate that Church Health was so generous, because it can be difficult to find a location where the surrounding neighbors won’t oppose the homeless families living next to them.

Tracy Burgess, left, Dorothy Day’s director of development and communications, and Sister Maureen Griner, executive director of the Memphis chapter of the Dorothy Day House, are excited to expand the organization’s reach. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

“When most people in Memphis think of the homeless, they think of the man standing on the street corner with a sign and they forget that this is a completely different face of homelessness,” Griner said.

“We look for ordinary families who have just hit a bad spot in life and for whatever reasons, things just fell apart.”

While the reasons a family ends up at a place like the Dorothy Day House can be tragic as they are varied, Griner said that most, if not all, of the 51 families they have helped were lacking a support system.

“They didn’t have anybody who could help get them back on their feet, no cousins, uncles, aunts, parents who could offer the financial assistance or even space in their house for them to get back on their feet,” she said.

“So we get calls sometimes from people who are sleeping outside or living in a half burned down building, it’s just hard to imagine,” she said. “We certainly won’t be solving homelessness with three more houses, but we will be serving more families and hopefully our larger presence will call attention to the problem so that more people will begin to think about it and begin to help.”

PROPERTY SALES 128 339 21,916
MORTGAGES 76 240 16,657
BANKRUPTCIES 36 136 6,853