Opening Comments at CESC Groundbreaking – February 19, 2014

March 3, 2014

Ground Breaking Speech February 19 2014 given by Deborah Holt, Chairman of the Board, Tallahassee Leon Shelter

Good Morning, County Executive…. Mayor Marks, Commissioners and invited guests.

Comprehensive Emergency Services Center GroundbreakingToday we celebrate a remarkable achievement, the culmination of 12 months of planning. That word planning is so bland. We forget that it encompasses weeks and days and hours of work by county and city employees to identify this site and secure all of the permits and funding. They not only stepped up to the plate but exceeded all of our hopes. We overlook that it incorporates the generous leadership of the United Way, encouraging the planners to persevere toward success. We fail to recall the tremendous donation of time and expertise by The Shelter Board which stepped into the breach and found the wisdom and courage to honor 25 years of uninterrupted service and recognize that it was a new day and lay the foundation for the next 25 years.

Today we break ground to provide services to the most vulnerable among us. We humans need to rest to recharge our batteries. We need to be safe while we rest and we need to perceive that we are safe, believe that we are safe, so that we can face the challenges of the next day. A principle goal for this new facility is to provide that safety for those who rest or work here. Folks without a place to stay can come here and get their second wind. They can get medical attention, education, counseling, referrals to more services, plus a bed to rest in and three good meals, all under one roof. We will be able to sleep 390 people with no mats on the floor. Our new kitchen will be able to feed all 390 clients plus those seeking services from the RCC but not staying for the night. In 2013 the Shelter delivered 80,435 lodging nights and we are currently averaging between 220-240 clients each night plus the 50 to 60 men at the Cold Night Shelter.

As we get ready to erect the walls of this building I want to reflect on the virtual walls that have crumbled during the past few years. The Cold Night Shelter that opened in 2011 is an early example of community collaboration. First Baptist Church and this year Jacob's Chapel hosted the Cold Night Shelter that was planned by the City, the County, Red Cross, the Faith Community, the Big Bend Homeless Coalition, and The Shelter. The Mayor's Homeward Bound Planning initiative brought the service providers together and identified the need for more community collaboration. The spirit of collaboration grew steadily with the success of the RCC and the planning process that brought the community of service providers together. It has grown stronger in recent months as success has built on success.

Tallahassee is a great city, a gem sheltered by towering oaks and pines with a tradition of philanthropic generosity. I want to make a special thank you to everyone who has supported The Shelter, the RCC and other homeless service providers. It is because of you that we are able to provide services and we look forward to your continued support on this exciting new venture. Today is the first day that we will be offering our bricks for your donation. The bricks will be a pathway for all who seek our services.

This facility and all it represents is an inspiration to us all that good works can be achieved by communities that share a common vision. Creating that vision is sometimes the toughest part of the job. This facility is a dream come true for the professionals, the advocates, and the volunteers who have worked in this community for 25 years to ameliorate the challenges of those experiencing homelessness. It will be a beacon for those who pass through its doors, a brilliant reminder that the community cares, that even though life is tough, there is hope; that being homeless today does not mean being homeless forever.

Teamwork between the public and private sectors is not new. There are examples around the world. But we forget about them. We get a mindset that the government should do it or that the faith community should do it, or anybody else but each of us.
Many people in our community have worked for decades to assist those experiencing homelessness. Each one of them has made a contribution, big or small, to identifying the causes and developing the solutions of homelessness. It is not an easy calling. Many of you in this audience have the bone fides, and probably the scars to prove it.

Rick Kearney, Mainline CEO and Chairman of the BoardFor years Rick Kearney cared for the homeless in his own home; transported them in his own car; fed them his own food. When that didn’t work out so well, he founded several nonprofits. But we all know that we have to do what we are good at. Having a big heart and a commitment to those in need was not enough. So MainLine Information Systems got started and then the Beatitude Foundation got started. When the Beatitude Foundation purchased that old warehouse on West Virginia Street, I tried to get them to convert it to a dining hall. What was I thinking? Remember I spoke about the toughest part being creating a vision?I saw 30 new bunk beds in our existing dining room and a new building in which to feed 300 people: Rick saw a place for those experiencing homelessness to come to one building to access all of the services they need to help them find their new home. It’s that vision thing.

It is my honor to introduce Rick Kearney.