The Dwelling Place Shelter for Women Prepares for January Reopening

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After The Dwelling Place of New York closed in June, Kim Vaccari said she knew all along that a shared commitment would reopen the homeless shelter for women.

The Dwelling Place is scheduled to reopen Jan. 4 with five beds and a goal to increase the number of beds each month until the shelter reaches its capacity of 22 residents.

“The intention was always to reopen,” said Mrs. Vaccari, a parishioner of St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Stephen of Hungary parish in Manhattan who serves as chair of The Dwelling Place’s board of directors. 

“The board never thought it was a permanent shutdown. We were always hopeful it would reopen.”

The Dwelling Place, which was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany in 1977, closed its doors as its board of directors developed a plan to restaff and raise funds before reopening with safeguards for the women who reside there during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 and social distancing limited the number of homeless women who could call the shelter home in the months before it closed. In addition, Sister Joann Sambs, C.S.A, stepped down as administrator when she was called to serve at the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes motherhouse in Wisconsin, and Sister Nancy Chiarello, O.S.F., retired after serving at The Dwelling House since its opening.

Sister Nancy, who is now serving as a volunteer at The Dwelling Place, told CNY that she always knew it would reopen “because God has been with us since day one and will continue to be with us.”

Deborah Pollock was named executive director during the shutdown over the summer and is “excited” for what is ahead at The Dwelling Place. 

“I knew pretty quickly this place was special,” she said. “There is no other place like The Dwelling Place. There is no women’s shelter that gives women the safety and security they need.”

She added that the residence’s first virtual fund-raiser, “Bring the Ladies Home for the Holidays,” raised about $55,000 and said other donations have been received such as food, shampoo and conditioner, bedsheets and blankets, and cleaning supplies.

“The donors are extraordinarily generous and so loyal,” she said.

The Dwelling Place is located in a former convent at St. Clemens Mary parish on West 40th Street in Manhattan, which is owned by the archdiocese, and is funded by private donations. Grant applications also are filled out in hopes of receiving funding for the shelter, which has paid staff and volunteers.

The Dwelling Place served about 3,000 homeless women in its first 40 years. Women are interviewed before being accepted as residents. The women are prepared for life beyond the shelter. On average, residents stay at The Dwelling Place for an average of six months to a year.

Breakfast and dinner are served at the shelter. Women are offered a to-go lunch as they’re required to be out of the shelter between breakfast and dinner to either work or receive help to get them back on their feet.

“Women are coming here from all walks of life, somebody’s mother, somebody’s aunt, somebody’s sister, somebody who had a job who lost a job,” Sister Nancy said. 

“They are just people who have fallen into the cracks and have been forgotten by society. They are women struggling, and when they don’t have anyone to walk with them in those struggles, it’s very frightening.

“Most people are one paycheck from being out there and especially more so today.”

In recent weeks, the Dwelling Place has resumed its Wednesday night dinners with community residents and former residents of the shelter receiving a take-out meal. 

A Thanksgiving take-out dinner was held Nov. 25 with donated food prepared by volunteers. Final preparations are being made to reopen the shelter Jan. 4.

“The commitment is still there and the donor base is still there,” Mrs. Vaccari said. “We’re confident we can do it. We’ve made a lot of improvements on the house and we’re very excited.” 

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