Samaritan House a haven for homeless after hospital

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Residents of Samaritan House, which provides recuperative care for homeless men and women after they are discharged from a hospital, can watch satellite television, thanks to a former resident who pays the agency’s monthly bill for the service.

In 2008, having became ill and losing his job at roughly the same time, he stayed at the agency for about three weeks before leaving and finding an information-technology job at Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, and eventually getting a job at another company.

“He wanted to pay back,” says Brad Goforth, the agency’s executive director.

Operating with an annual budget of $260,000 and a staff of four full-time employees, Samaritan House has served over 800 people since it was formed in March 2005 by Ruth Woodend and Freda Schlaman, two volunteers at the Urban Ministry Center.

“They continually saw people who  were sick and injured come to the Center with no place to go during the day” after leaving the hospital, Goforth says.

Now, after moving to a new and larger location, the agency is serving 120 to 160 people a year, with the capacity to serve up to 200.

That is up from 100 to 110 people it could serve at its previous facility.

And while the larger facility has resulted in an increase in the number of people the agency serves, Goforth says, the ailing economy has generated a different mix of clients.

“Now we’re seeing more and more of the chronically homeless who have been in the elements for so long that their healthy has been compromised,’:he says. “Now they’re getting really sick and really need the help.”

Samaritan House, which does not accept government funds and does not receive United Way support, generates all its income from grants, churches and individual donors.

To cover the $225,000 cost of buying its new facility, it received $125,000 from the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation and $100,000 from the Leon Levine Foundation, both over four years, as well as $10,000 from the Dickson Foundation and $5,000 from the Philip Van Every Foundation.

And it used $40,000 from its reserves to renovate the facility.

To help cover its annual operating costs and provide services, the Samaritan House counts on donations and contributions, and on volunteers.

Roughly 10 to 12 churches provide an evening meal for clients staying at Samaritan House, with two to three volunteers from each church working on a given night.

Samaritan House aims to provide services for homeless people who otherwise would have no place to recover from injury or illness, services that also can help reduce costs for emergency rooms that often serve as the last resort for homeless people needing medical attention.

“If our bed days were spent in a hospital, that’s over $32 million we’ve saved in indigent care” since 2005, Goforth says.

More important, he says, it would be “almost impossible for these folks to really get well in any short period of time if they didn’t have a place like ours to come to.”

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