What began as a charitable effort by a local church eventually blossomed into the Kearney Center as it is known today. After several men froze to death on Tallahassee’s streets, First Presbyterian Church opened a makeshift overnight shelter in its basement for a few dozen men seeking refuge from the cold. The group operating at First Presbyterian become known as Tallahassee Cold Night Shelter. Two years later, the Shelter became incorporated and registered as a non-profit agency, and in 1991, the Shelter moved to a new home on West Tennessee Street. For the next two decades, the Shelter experienced tremendous growth and expanded their services to meet diverse client needs. Two of the major expansions of the Shelter were the the food program (comprised of community volunteers, churches, and civic groups preparing meals), and the onsite medical clinic.
Although the Shelter was capable of providing individuals with overnight shelter and three meals per day, they did not have the capacity to offer daytime support services. This need was recognized by a group of community partners that included business owners, social service agencies, and concerned citizens. A small warehouse adjacent to the Shelter was purchased and transformed into the Renaissance Community Center (RCC). The RCC served as a venue where multiple service providers could operate in one location and accommodate clients needing social, physical, mental, and educational support services. The Shelter and the RCC worked together to serve the same population, and subsequently shared many mutual clients. Due to the high volume of clients utilizing its services, the RCC quickly outgrew its facility. The Shelter had already been operating over capacity for years and the need for a new emergency shelter was apparent. The concurrent growth of both agencies yielded an agreement between them to locate their combined operations within a new facility.
In April 2015, the Shelter and Renaissance Community Center moved into the Kearney Center to better meet the needs of its growing population, and less than a year later, the two agencies merged and became known as the Kearney Center. Providing comprehensive emergency services in the same physical space is a new model in Tallahassee, but the Kearney Center has been leading the way in ending homelessness using this model. The Kearney Center experiences growth each month by partnering with new community organizations to offer a host of programs. Committed staff members work to meet the diverse needs of this population, and engage them in a variety of activities that help to foster self-sufficiency while preserving their dignity. The combined efforts of the Kearney Center and its partners have produced an outstanding sense of community that is inspiring others to get involved in local efforts to end homelessness.