GARY | With a gently winding foyer staircase, sunlight streaming through windows and hardwood style floors underfoot, a new residential facility designed to serve the homeless feels more like a college dorm.
Local community and political leaders gathered Tuesday to celebrate the grand opening of South Shore Commons, 1201 W. 20th Ave.
The 60-unit, two-story complex serves homeless people who have disabilities, homeless families, those who earn a very low income, families at risk for homelessness and small families with specific needs.
Along with housing, it will provide on-site supportive services and case management by Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living. Mental health care, service coordination and case management are among the programs.
The building is not a temporary shelter. It's a place where people can start over, property manager Dannielle Raines said.
"This is permanent for them," she said.
Raines was among those giving guided tours of the one- and two-bedroom units. Each is furnished with a couch, beds and kitchen table and stocked with bedding, cleaning supplies and pots and pans.
"Everyone came from a shelter, so they didn't have anything," she said.
Residents began moving in last week. About five have part-time jobs. Raines hopes they inspire others to seek work.
"It gives hope to other residents who have no job," she said. "We encourage you to get back out there."
There's a laundry room and mail room. Edgewater will use some of the upstairs space for its behavioral health care services.
The center has only 12 unoccupied units.
Danita Johnson Hughes, president and CEO of Edgewater, said it was fitting to celebrate the opening of a new residential facility for homeless people on a day with extreme cold, when people are seeking shelter in warmth.
The building marks the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication, she said, thanking the private, public and governmental partners in the project. The delay came from funders waiting for the facility to receive Section 8 voucher approval.
"This is Edgewater's 40th year in existence," she said. "This building represents a spirit of renewal to the community we serve."
Although the building is called South Shore Commons – because a commons is an area in which people gather – the project itself was not common at all, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson said.
"This project is anything but common," she said. "It's extraordinary."
She credited the participation of multiple agencies for contributing to its culmination.
Edgewater Systems, UP Development LLC, Broadway Area Community Development Corp., NSP Consultants and the city of Gary partnered on the $12 million project.
The mayor said the Bible teaches we are judged by how we treat those who may be considered "the least" among us. The facility will help the homeless elevate their status, which, in turn, elevates everyone, she said.