by Elizabeth Morris and Emily Masters
“I’d had a home that I’d built for about 13 years and my wife passed away and I kind of bottomed out emotionally,” said Dave Steel, 60.
Overcome with grief, Steel stopped working, paying bills and eating. A close friend stopped by his house every day to get him out of bed. And when Steel lost his home, he moved in with that friend and his wife for about a year. He moved out when the couple had a baby.
“I spent a couple weeks camping outside and then rainy weather started,” Steel said.
Next, Steel turned to the Rescue Mission Emergency Homeless Shelter. Just as he timed out of the emergency housing, Steel learned Court Street Place had an opening.
“It’s just nice to have my own room with a real bed,” Steel said. “I’m paying rent. It’s a good deal.”
Court Street Place is a supportive residence for men who are working to transition out of homelessness and establish self-sufficiency.
A few weeks into his stay at the group home, Steel now works as a cab driver six days a week, 12 hours a day.
“They need time for the change and this is what this house is about,” said Barry Segal, owner of the property and a volunteer in the home. “This gives you a stable environment for as long as you need it.”
Segal bought the property three years ago with the idea that he could house 10 homeless men, while using the backyard for his construction business.
“This had 10 rooms, already zoned,” Segal said. “It was the abandoned American Red Cross emergency shelter.”
Now the home is run by Rescue Mission, an organization that aids people struggling with homelessness in Upstate New York. Rescue Mission offered to partner with Segal after he bought the property. The organization provides the men with community resources, case management and other programs.
Segal now describes himself as “a major volunteer,” and regularly spends time with the men.
“I’ve cultivated relationships with them — I can call somebody up [after they have moved out] and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Want to get together for coffee?’” Segal said. “If they’re in trouble and they need help, they can call.”
Segal said men typically stay for five to six months. However, the range can vary between two years and two weeks.
“Lately the intake system has gotten better, so the people who are coming in are in a better position to stay,” Segal said. “In the beginning, the focus was on ‘these guys are really bad and they really need a place’ but then they began to collapse, [or relapse, and become a negative influence on] everybody else.”
Now, Segal said, the focus is on bringing in men who are ready to make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
With financial support from the Department of Social Services, men pay $400 monthly rent. Neither a security deposit or background check is required. The group home is centrally located in downtown Ithaca, so residents can walk to work.
Segal said gaining employment gives the men a sense of self-worth and teaches them life skills like budgeting, punctuality and hygiene.
There are rules against female guests and the use of alcohol and drugs, as well as an 11 p.m. curfew, Segal said.
“Being here is not so bad,” said resident Francis Shattuck, 58. “There’s no drugs, no alcohol, so I’m clean. It’s part of my life that I need to do.”
Segal said these rules challenge the men to take personal strides.
“A little adversity strengthens you a little bit, it makes you grow, it makes you move forward,” Segal said. “This place is comfortable enough, you’re secure, you’re safe. Now you want to move your life forward, so let’s figure out how to get a job, let’s figure out how to save money. You need to have somebody around you to hold you accountable, that’s what this place does.”
Shattuck moved into Court Street Place about six months ago. He had previously been living in the Jungle, a tent community in the Ithaca woods. Shattuck said it took time to get used to living with five men in one house.
“Your living ways don’t correspond with his living ways,” Shattuck said. “So of course there’s going to be a conflict here and there, which there was, but anyway it gets straightened out. No one fights here, so it’s a pretty decent place to be.”
Segal said safety is integral.
“They want to feel like, ‘I can go home tonight and no one’s going to come into my bedroom and rip me off,’” Segal said. “We have cameras and stuff, so there’s not going to be a fight, I’m not going to get beat up.”
Shattuck said Court Street Place “is a much better situation than the one I was in.”
“When I was in the Jungle I didn’t know where I was going to go from there. I didn’t know what I was going to do, anything like that,” Shattuck said. “Being sick — I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease, I’ve got heart problems, arthritis, neuropathy, diabetes, a lot of problems. I think [the Rescue Mission] kind of rescued me. Thank God for them.”