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Living Hope Day Center offers hope and respite for Wilmington-area unhoused

The new day shelter aims to make guests feel welcome with a cozy mug of coffee.
James Watson
The new day shelter aims to make guests feel welcome with a cozy mug of coffee.

The recently opened shelter can connect homeless guests with resources- once they can trust the offer of help.

Wilmington is officially home to a new day shelter for the unhoused, located on Fourth and Market in downtown Wilmington.

In the basement of the First Baptist Church, the first thing you see is a kitchen table full of people chatting away. The first thing you smell is freshly brewed coffee.

“Endless cups of coffee. That's kind of our number one thing,” Tony Perez explained. He's the director of the Hope Living Day Center, and to him, the coffee is a symbol of the atmosphere he wants to foster.

“We even start off with actual coffee mugs," he explained. "The idea being that a mug says 'come and stay a while,' versus a paper cup is 'take it and go.' So the objective is to try and make people feel comfortable from the minute they walk in.”

A shelf of lovingly displayed mugs look over the boisterous room. But the shelter offers a lot more than coffee. There’s a game room, an art corner, a TV room, and computers for guests to use.

Perez says the aim is to bring some dignity to their lives.

"The idea is to build relationships. We're fiercely relational," he said. "I want our friends to be comfortable with us. Because there's so many barriers that are oftentimes self-imposed, or even mental, on different kinds of barriers that keep people from getting help.”

Those self-imposed barriers come with the constant rejection of living in the streets. Perez says that life is incredibly hard, and can make someone feel inhuman. He gets teary-eyed when he talks about it.

"I think after a while on the streets, you're so beat down, that there's this idea of self-worth. 'Do I even deserve to be treated like a human?'" he said. "Which is why everything in this place is new and pretty. To give them that dignity to give them dignity, right? Everybody deserves to be treated like a human.”

The shelter has been a year in the making, and has changed venues a few times. It’ll be open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to start, with the hope of increasing those hours in due time.

 The Living Hope Day Center is located at the First Baptist Church in downtown Wilmington, at
James Watson
The Living Hope Day Center is located at the First Baptist Church in downtown Wilmington, at 411 Market St.

A man named Ray came to check it out and said it was very welcoming. He lives on the North Side now, but was homeless a few years back.

"Anybody that's in a ministry that's trying to help the less fortunate, I'm down with that," he said. "They're called to do this healing, you got to have a heart and they got the heart. They do this for the people.”

Meg McBride, the pastor at Hope Recovery Church, was instrumental in a day shelter that ran from 2016 to 2018, and helped get this one started. The first iteration stopped after Hurricane Florence flooded the basement where they operated.

This new version, she says, is a part of her ministry.

"I believe that the future of ministry is collaboration. And so this initiative allows five ministries to work together," she said.

Other than First Baptist Church, all the other churches are United Methodist churches. But McBride says that’s no problem. "We need to put relationship before religion. And so when we get together around shared values, we can totally do that no matter what denomination we are.”

More than 50 people attended the grand opening, and a youth folk band played while attendees lined up for hotdogs and hamburgers. It was a big community feeling, and a lot of social workers and other community advocates came to check it out as well.

"There's no limitations," McBride said. "You don't have to show ID to come in. You don't have forms to sign. There's no prayers to pray in order to receive help, right? It's just an open space of welcome.”

That's also why the coffee and lemonade are free and unlimited.

Beyond the art corner, the internet access, the gathering spaces, and the ever-important restrooms, there’s a further benefit to the space. It’s a little lockable office that caseworkers can use anytime.

One caseworker who came on the tour told WHQR that the private room would be incredibly helpful for their clients — both because of the ease of finding them at a new shelter, and for the privacy.

The Day Shelter is looking for funding for the coming years — about $150,000 annually. That should help cover a full-time staff member. To launch, it got some help from the New Hanover County Endowment, and church leaders plan to ask for more as they continue the work.

Residents can also contribute, however, and can find more information at the Living Hope Day Shelter Facebook page.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.