Serve City homeless shelter hopes to improve facilities, capacity

David Hood, executive director of Serve City, stands in their residential shelter on East Avenue in Hamilton Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Serve City offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
David Hood, executive director of Serve City, stands in their residential shelter on East Avenue in Hamilton Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Serve City offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The leader of the Serve City homeless shelter and food pantry in Hamilton says the organization has increased its services to those in need.

But he hopes in coming years the organization will have a better building — still located somewhere on East Avenue — and the city will have more apartments that those leaving Serve City can afford to rent in Hamilton.

David Hood, who became Serve City’s executive director in August of 2020, has made some changes since arriving after working as assistant to the CEO of The Crossroads Center in Cincinnati. Earlier, he had worked as pastor at various churches.

This spring, he implemented the Move Forward program, which is designed to help residents and others helped by Serve City overcome barriers they face.

“We want to be a river, not a pond,” Hood says, explaining that in rivers, the water flows, yet in ponds, it goes nowhere. His aim is to help residents get past rocks and dams that block forward movement.

“So one of the key questions I ask of residents every single day is, ‘What’s your plan for outside Serve City? Where are you heading after this? What are the obstacles that are in your way of being able to get out of here?’” Hood said.

Moving forward

Counselors and employees with Access Counseling to help with that.

Access staff and Serve City recently helped 12 people gather all the paperwork they needed to get state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses that give them access to other things, such as bank accounts.

Caption
Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“For some of them, that meant writing letters to elementary schools in Tennessee so they could get some sort of transcript with their name on it, because many of them don’t have their Social Security cards or birth certificates, those types of things,” he said. The clients’ affiliation with Serve City allowed Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees to accept some documents they otherwise might not have.

Serve City has a residential homeless shelter where 48 men and 14 women can sleep. It also has group-living apartments that serve 48 people. And efficiency apartments serve another 26, “So all together, we serve about 148 people every day through our shelter,” Hood said.

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The organization recently made some changes for its employees: Its base-pay level rose to $13 per hour, up from $10, because, “we realized we have trouble competing with White Castle and Wendy’s,” he said. When he arrived, just about all Serve City employees had been served by Serve City or were living there at the time.

“For many of our staff, this was the first job they’ve ever had, and they didn’t have some of those marketplace skills that you need in order to create a professional-level staff,” Hood said. But it’s important to have employees who themselves have been homeless, so now, about 60 percent of employees have experienced it.

Serve City has building needs

The organization’s top current need is to move.

“Serve City needs to relocate, desperately,” Hood said. “We’ve been in this building for about 20 years. It was designed to be a car mechanics’ shop and car dealership, but it was never designed to be a homeless shelter, and it was never designed to be a food pantry.”

A new building would let Serve City move from dozens of people living in bunk beds in a large room to pods, which would give people more privacy, and prevent bullying and other problems.

Another limitation is the number of people who can find apartments after they leave serve city, Hood said.

“I can start them in the overnight shelter,” which serves the 48 men and 14 women, he said. Then they can move to the residential shelter, and on to apartments where they pay rent and continue to learn how to live independently, he said.

“The rent at our independent-living apartment right now is $350 a month,” he said. “There is no place in Hamilton you can go for that. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to find someplace for double that.

And I always tell people, ‘Imagine doubling your mortgage.” For me, that would be completely un-doable. And for our residents, it is, too.

He has asked Butler County officials to use some American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to help with Serve City’s needs, and that request is pending. Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith has told City Council the city was working with the county commissioners and the city could potentially provide funding for homeless issues if it doesn’t come from the county.

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Here are some other recent efforts:

  • Jeff Gambrell, Serve City’s manager of volunteer services and community engagement, recently started a pet-food pantry for those in need.
  • Because some people refuse to use homeless shelters because they are too concerned about animals they own, “We’ve been talking about ... could we provide some sort of pet foster system that would care for folks’ pets while they got back on their feet?” Hood said.
  • Serve City has a new website: It is serve-city.org. People can make donations, one time or automatic monthly contributions. There also are forms through which people can volunteer or donate goods.
  • The number of volunteers has been rising this year. In June, 15 people volunteered. “But now we’re up around 50,” Gambrell said. “So people are starting to become more comfortable with the environment, they’ve already been vaccinated, or they’re just feeling more confident about the direction our country’s going, that they’re starting to come out in numbers to help Serve City.”
Caption
Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, overnight shelter area, and several longer term shelter and apartment options to help homeless individuals. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, overnight shelter area, and several longer term shelter and apartment options to help homeless individuals. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, overnight shelter area, and several longer term shelter and apartment options to help homeless individuals. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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