A Home for the Homeless

By Joan Benny and Pauline Mehalick

Oh, brother, man, fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there.
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

This short anonymous poem exemplifies the basic philosophy practiced daily at St. Herman’s Monastery and House of Hospitality. Located at 4410 Franklin Blvd. in a poor West Side Cleveland neighborhood, the Orthodox monastery is run by three monks under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate).

The home provides food, clothing, and shelter to the inner-city poor of Cleveland. Last year 105,000 meals were served. All the food is donated, as is the clothing which is distributed to needy men, women, and children. In addition it provides shelter for men who might otherwise spend the night on the street. Although the Home is licensed to house 20 to 25 men, there have been nights when as many as 50 men have shared the shelter. No one is turned away who is in need.

Requirements for admission to the Home are that the men must be sober as well as destitute. Residents have ranged in age from 18 to 97, and they stay anywhere from two days or two weeks to as long as two years. The men stay until they can get a job or a permanent place to live.

Those who have experienced psychiatric problems have also found a place at St. Herman’s. Often released from the mental hospitals prematurely, the men must be watched so that they take their prescribed medication. Some 90% of the men at the Home are referred from county welfare agencies, the Red Cross, hospitals, and psychiatric centers.

The Home began in 1977 when Fr. Gregory Reynolds came to Cleveland from Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. When he left Tennessee, Father Gregory had only $250. in the bank to buy and start operating a house. A real estate salesman tried to convince him that he didn’t have nearly enough money for a down payment, but an anonymous donation provided the needed funds.

Father Gregory and the two monks who assist him, follow the monastic rule of St. Basil which is especially devoted to feeding the hungry, clothing, and sheltering the poor. They follow the monastic liturgical cycle of services in their small chapel, with many of the men in attendance at the services, particularly on Sunday.

Home Subsists on Good Will of Many

St. Herman’s provides its daily social services with no funding—neither from the Diocese nor from the government. It has no budget or advance planning, but operates from day to day on the donations given it by individuals and churches of all denominations.

“When we have a financial crisis, I usually kneel in the Chapel and pray to Jesus. If there are no results, I pray to his Mother Mary to get after Him,” says Fr. Gregory, jokingly, “and then we always seem to get results in four days—always four days. Some anonymous donor comes through and we can operate again for awhile.”

The biggest financial problem of St. Herman’s seems to be the enormous gas and electric bills. Gas bills for the 160 year-old house are budgeted at $300. monthly and electric bills run about the same in order to keep the large food cooling units in operation. There have been times when the gas and electricity have been turned off because of the delinquent payments. The Home has also had difficulties with various zoning, building, and fire codes. Although the Home has refused to take money from “Caesar,” the name they give to the city administration, Fr. Gregory says that the past and present mayoral administration have been somewhat favorable to the Home.

Nevertheless, the Home still exists after seven years. “We are grateful to the many wonderful people in the city who have helped us to exist,” explained Fr. Gregory. Churches and organizations of all denominations have offered donations.

Orthodox Among Regular Supporters

Many of the Orthodox churches in the Cleveland area are among those that give regular help to St. Herman’s. Groups and individuals from the various parishes have donated food, clothing, time, skills, and money throughout the past years. We became acquainted with the home firsthand when we took our 7th and 8th grade church school class there to drop off clothing that they had collected for the residents. It was an especially educational experience for the class. We were welcomed, as are all visitors, and given a tour of the house. In fact, the monks prefer people to come and see what is happening there before they make any donations. They want people to know how their gifts or money are being used.

Last year, the Orthodox Clergy Association asked Fr. Gregory for donation guidelines in order to avoid too much duplication of items. As a result, a list was drawn up, asking different parishes to donate particular items each month. Our parish, for example, in different months, supplied the home with various paper products for meals and for the bathrooms, .soap, coats, underwear, men’s clothing, and blankets.

As food is constantly welcomed, individuals and groups have not only donated food items, but have prepared different dishes and dropped them off, or sometimes even served them. Last month our priest, his wife, and several parishioners made pots of soup, lasagna, and casseroles to feed 200 and took them over. Next month our “R” Club is planning to cook a dinner and serve it for them. Such efforts on the parts of individuals and groups in our parish are carried out by many other individuals and parishes as well.

In addition to food and clothing, some individuals have donated time and skills by helping with repairs at the home; another donated the use of a van to transport items. The men who stay there also help by keeping the home clean, and assisting the monks in the regular preparation and serving of food.

“There will always be dwindling finances and rising costs ready to thwart St. Herman’s success. Hopefully, also, there will continue to be offerings from individuals and religious groups, for they have thus far kept the house going,” concluded Fr. Gregory. “Pray for us.”

For Discussion:

1 What are the ways that you might see yourself or your parish helping an organization such as this one in your area?

2. Do you feel this kind of effort is something the Orthodox should increase?

3. If Number 2 is Yes, what are some of the social needs in your community or city that you might reach out to?

Joan Benny and Pauline Mehalick team teach the teen church school class and are active members of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church, Broadview Heights, Ohio.