A four-year-old drop-in center for the homeless and mentally ill in downtown Coeur d’Alene is moving this month to a new building. Fresh Start’s move should save money on rent, provide better parking and bring the center’s services closer to the people it serves.
Fresh Start will move from the space it shares with Cherished Ones Ministries soup kitchen at 418 Coeur d’Alene Ave., to a newly renovated building at 1524 E. Sherman Ave., said Howard Martinson, Fresh Start’s executive director.
“East Sherman is the low-income part of town so we’ll be better off there,” Martinson said. “We feel very positive about the move. We’re getting a much better building and we feel (our landlord) is being very fair with us on the rent.”
Cherished Ones also will move and has a good lead on a new location, said Director Kevin Kram. However, he is not ready to disclose that spot as negotiations are under way. The soup kitchen provides free meals on Saturday nights and sack lunches for temporary laborers on weekdays. Kram said the soup kitchen will remain where it is until the end of the month, when he hopes to have found a new home. The ministry served 10,232 meals last year.
“We will not miss a Saturday,” Kram said. “We will guarantee there will be no disruption of service.”
Visitors to Fresh Start have access to hot soup and drinks, showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, telephone and the internet, a mailing address and a clothing bank. With its partner, St. Vincent de Paul, the center also operates an emergency warming shelter when the temperature drops below 15 degrees.
“It’s not a place to live, but it’s a place to get out of the weather,” Martinson said.
Once a month, basic medical care is offered, timed to coincide with the Saturday meal. Drs. Rolf Nesse and Susan Melchiore operate that service, offering care for common ailments, such as asthma, and providing some medications. Nesse said the service has been successful in reaching people because they’re already there for the meal. For that reason, the small medical clinic will move to Cherished Ones’ new home.
“It’s one of those small things you do that are beneficial but don’t come close to solving the problem,” Nesse said. “We’ll continue it as long as we’re useful.”
Fresh Start’s move to the new building was precipitated by a rent increase of more than 30 percent, Martinson said. The rent was about $1,500 per month and was divided among several agencies that shared the space. But when the rent increased to $2,000 per month, not including utilities, the center went in search of a new home, Martinson said, adding the heating bill alone ran about $800 last month.
Having a warm place to be was crucial to the half-dozen homeless men and women gathered in the center’s sitting room on Tuesday morning, when the temperature was hovering around 14 degrees.
“I just come in to get warm and socialize. It helps me with my disability,” said Russell Anderson, 35, who said he receives treatment for mental illness from Dirne Clinic, a nonprofit health center. Anderson said he stays at St. Vincent de Paul’s shelter. Fresh Start provides help with “basic needs,” like a place to shower “which is really difficult when you’re on the streets,” Anderson said.
In the new building, rent will be $1,650 per month, including utilities, Martinson said. The building, which formerly housed Command Staffing, was purchased about a year and a half ago by David Armes, who renovated the inside and outside.
“We made a few modifications specific to them,” Armes said of Fresh Start. “I’m hoping things work out for the long term. We’re happy to have them.”
Strolling through the freshly painted rooms of the new building, Martinson entered a spacious shower room and showed off what he calls his “pride and joy” – a shower stall that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. It has a fold-down bench, a handrail and a doorway big enough for a wheelchair.
Another new feature will be a computer lab where visitors can use e-mail or access the Internet to search for jobs. Additional small rooms will hold a clothing bank and possibly a library. The spacious, long and narrow common area will offer places to sit down, rest and warm up, as well as snacks, hot drinks and the ever-present pot of chili or soup. Restrooms and laundry facilities will be situated at the rear of the building.
As in its current location, Fresh Start will seek compatible users to share the rent, such as the church that welcomes the homeless and mentally ill that will hold services there.
Another proposal being considered came from the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Coeur d’Alene for an arts and crafts store and gallery of clients’ art. A previous downtown gallery hasn’t received enough walk-through traffic, said Coeur d’Alene alliance president Joyce Hughett. The artwork includes furniture, jewelry, ceramics and bird houses, she said.
“Often times, we find people with mental illness are extremely artistic,” she said. “There’s just no outlet for them to sell unless they go to a store. That would really work well if we had a venue.”