By Jamille Whitlow
Michael Robinson needed somewhere to recuperate after spending 21 days at Atrium Health Mercy hospital in Charlotte battling kidney failure.
The 66-year-old did not have a home in the area at the time, so he sought refuge at Samaritan House, a Charlotte facility where people without stable housing can recover after a hospitalization. He was there for three months.
“The staff is amazing, the way they treat you,” Robinson said during a recent interview with NC Health News.
Charlotte’s Samaritan House is the oldest “medical respite” center in North Carolina. There are three others in Wilmington, Durham and Asheville.
There is a growing need for respite care centers in Charlotte as rents skyrocket in Mecklenburg County and the area reports a homeless population of at least 3,380 people. There is an affordable housing gap, too, with at least 23,022 housing units needed for households with income 30 percent below the Mecklenburg County area median. The area median income in 2021 was $84,200, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness data fact sheet.
Charlotte is fortunate to have the Samaritan House facility, which just happens to be on Fortune Street, to care for folks like Robinson. But it took many years for the organization to get where it is today.
From humble beginnings
Ruth Woodend and Freda Schlaman founded Samaritan House in 2005.
They spent years studying the idea which grew from their time in Servant Leadership School in Charlotte, where they learned how to use their spirituality to help others. This school was established by The Church of the Savior in Washington, a faith community with a strong focus on seeking social justice. The two women visited the D.C. church to find encouragement and advice for starting the Charlotte respite care.
The women would meet every week and invite people via email from Servant Leadership and the Urban Ministry Center to their soup supper “Come and See.” Sometimes Woodend was asked how she would use her spirituality to help others if money were no object.
According to the Samaritan House website, Woodend’s response was always, “I would find a four bedroom house and take in the homeless who need a place to recover from a hospital stay.”
The two women started with $200. The center now has over 15 private and corporate sponsors, and nearly $372,500 in revenue, according to the most recent IRS Business Master File report in GuideStar.
Working toward a common goal
In the first meeting at Woodend’s home, 12 people attended. Eight people out of the 12 became a part of a team that would continue to develop the idea.
By 2004, the team incorporated and became a legal charity. A mere year later, in 2005, they rented and renovated a house previously owned by the YWCA on Park Road.
From there, Samaritan House was born. By 2011, they’d raised enough money to buy their own house on Fortune Street, near downtown Charlotte.
The house’s maximum capacity is 12, with four bedrooms that each have three beds along with a private bathroom. Patients have stayed as few as five days to as long as a year in some cases.
The COVID-19 pandemic was rough on the organization, as it forced Samaritan House to slow the number of admissions and reduce the number of tenants. With the pandemic fading, though, the organization is looking ahead.
Looking toward the future
Rodney Tucker, executive director of Samaritan House, joined three months ago to help the center get back on its feet. The nonprofit’s board of directors has also asked for fresh ideas.
“That’s part of my job, is to reimagine Samaritan House,” Tucker said. “The program model’s about 20 years old. Keeping up with medical science and where we should be, how do we get to the next place?”
The House functions with five staff members, an executive director, a full-time housing case manager and three house associates. The manager is responsible for receiving intakes, screening potential guests and creating a discharge plan. The house associates are responsible for cleaning the house and taking guests to their medical appointments.
According to Tucker, the majority of their clients are over 60 years old. In the past year, 46 percent of clients served were white, 46 percent were Black and 8 percent were Hispanic.
Robinson, one of those clients, had high praise for his time at Samaritan House.
“Rodney, in particular, he works with you and he is concerned about your well-being,” he said. “So are the other staff, that has really left a profound effect upon me knowing that they show love.”