St. Ann Place: Meeting Many Basic Needs of the Homeless

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Since 2003, St. Ann Place has sat on the corner of N. Dixie Highway and 20th Street in West Palm Beach, just a few miles north of the city’s lively Clematis Street, which is filled with trendy shops and eateries. 

Cathleen McFarlane 1927-2010, a founding donor and hands-on volunteer at St. Ann Place, West Palm Beach

The plain, cream-colored facade belies the activity taking place each weekday morning behind and inside the building, where the outreach center staff provides ongoing, vital services for the local homeless community. Its stated mission is to, “witness Gospel values by providing a comfortable, clean, safe place where clients receive services in a dignified manner regardless of race, religion, or gender.” (https://www.stannplace.org/history) This theme of respect and caring is palpable among the staff, services and daily routine—creating a positive atmosphere for these dispossessed people whose lives are often filled with negativity and hopelessness. 

Love in Action

St. Ann Place Executive Director John Pescosolido emphasizes that he believes in a concept often attributed to St. Francis: “Sometimes we minister with words and sometimes we minister with actions.” 

Each week, Monday through Friday, the day at St. Ann Place (SAP) begins with a gathering of men, women, and sometimes children, who line up in the rear fenced-in parking lot. 

To start the morning routine, Pescosolido offers a brief prayer, often including scripture, greeting those assembled and quieting the atmosphere before announcements and food service. In talking with him, Pescosolido offers that he has been at SAP since July 2010, after a career in management, bringing with him experience in accounting, fund-raising and grant-writing. 

Two Sisters

The people behind the original mission, however, began its story in 2001 when St. Ann Catholic Church in downtown West Palm Beach identified a growing need for aiding the homeless in their surrounding community. Two Catholic Sisters, Carleen Cekal and Mary Oliver Hudon, started a program with the backing of Father Seamus Murtagh (deceased in 2021), Pastor of St. Ann Church at the time, initially providing lunch for those who visited them, a food pantry and a few other basic services.  

Remembers Pescosolido, “One of the Sisters was approached one morning by a soaking wet man, who told them he had just ‘bathed’ in the intracoastal to prepare for a job interview.” This prompted plans to provide shower facilities.  

As needs and the number of clients increased, the program relocated to its current space, a building owned by The Diocese of Palm Beach, which subsidizes SAP’s rent, charging them $10 per year, since the mission is wholly funded by grants, donations and endowments. Originally, part of the Ministry of St. Ann Church, SAP was incorporated in November 2022 as a 501(c)(3), and is now a Catholic ministry within The Diocese of Palm Beach.

Twenty  Years

Marking its 20th year at this location, SAP was helped by an initial fund-raiser held by local socialite Cathleen McFarlane. Now deceased, she was a founding donor as well as a hands-on volunteer in the early days of operation, and the mission’s hygiene center is named in her honor. 

Although the center’s roots are in the Catholic Church, Pescosolido stresses that all are welcome, and there is no proselytizing of religious beliefs: “We feed anyone; if you’re hungry, come to St. Ann Place, and we’ll feed you,” he stated. Although the morning prayer and scripture are generically Christian, all faiths are represented, if someone needs spiritual support. A Christian prayer service is held each year for those clients who have died during the past year. 

A TABLE FOR 250

At present, SAP provides breakfast and lunch for approximately 250 people per day; breakfast is served 7:45-9:30 a.m., and lunch from 10:45 a.m.-12 Noon. This includes hot meals three to four days a week, with brown bag meals the other days. People can eat at picnic tables located under an awning along the back of the building. A recent grant has provided funds to extend the awning for additional seating. Plastic-ware is given out, and no Styrofoam is utilized. 

For those who enter and register inside at the reception area, a shower is available in one of six individual rooms, and up to 100 people shower each day. People who come regularly to shower are assigned an individualized basket with donated toiletries, including toothpaste, soap, and deodorant, labeled with the person’s name. 

At this time, participants can bring in clothes to be laundered (up to six items) and receive their previously laundered clothes and/or other donated clothes after showering. New underclothes and socks are made available through donations. People can shower five days a week, receiving laundry services each time.

Health  Services

Once registered in the system, clients can be initially assessed for health services. On site are a full-time Social Worker and Registered Nurse, plus a part-time Recovery Coach (drug addiction) and Nurse Practitioner. For mental health counseling, they provide a Telepsych Service. Associate Director Robert Glass, who has been working full-time at St. Ann Place since 2018, offers that, “Perhaps 80% who come for the food line sign up for other services, such as showers, or to speak to a director and be assessed for health care.” Advanced and follow-up medical issues can be dealt with through the Health Care District of Palm Beach County; Glass adds that the health care partnership is a “blessing beyond measure.” 

Additional Help

Additional client needs are coordinated and managed under the direction of other staff, including Glass. He is SAP’s grant administrator, but many of his duties involve serving as a liaison among city, county and state agencies to manage services for clients. In the past five years, Glass states, “Everything has evolved and changed, as needs were greater than our original functions of handing out meals or providing a shower,” and he explains, “It is now a case-management type of environment.” 

SAP staff work with several local organizations, including a dynamic partnership with Vicar’s House to help with temporary housing, or to access their Homeward Bound program to transport clients back to family. Former military clients who need services can utilize the Veterans Administration.

With the help of two Legal Aid attorneys, clients get support to obtain state IDs and birth certificates to then approach government agencies for benefits and services. With proper identification, client referrals can be made to see if they qualify for housing with special circumstances, discount bus passes through SAP’s partnership with Palm Tran public transit, any Social Security benefits, or health care programs. Clients can also use the St. Ann Place street address to get mail delivered, or come there to receive once a month free haircuts, given by local stylists.

Patricia S.

Patricia S. a former client of St. Ann Place, now the longest time member of their staff

One of the clients who has benefited from SAP’s services is also a long-time member of its staff. Palm Beach County native Patricia S. generously shared her story of how St. Ann Place has impacted her life. As an employee since 2009, Patricia says St. Ann Place initially helped her by allowing her to do her laundry and take showers during her lunch hour while at work. Then, in 2012, while dealing with several serious family issues, she tried to cope by drinking. 

Although she was still working, by March 2015, Patricia relates that she had, “stopped paying her bills and [eventually] drank herself homeless.” At the time, she began sleeping in other people’s houses, in garages, under trees, while still working at SAP and showering during lunchtime. 

After six months of this, Patricia decided it was enough and decided to go to rehab, with the support of a staff member. She remembers, “Sister Pat, who used to work here, picked up some clothes and took me to the rehab [facility].” 

After time in rehab and then a halfway house, Patricia returned to work at SAP with the attitude that it would be a reminder of where she had been and could easily return. 

She decided that, “If I don’t keep up what I’m doing and be successful in this, I’m going to be…there again.” She concludes her story saying, “That was eight years ago, and it keeps me in check every day. Without [SAP], I wouldn’t have been so successful because I had this support system.”

Now sober for eight years and no longer homeless, Patricia says, “I am on top of the world.” She is the longest-serving employee in the building, with a large part of her day spent organizing, sorting and assigning the donated clothes that are given out to clients. “My work is rewarding, and often we are able to laugh, but there are also some sad things that go on here,” Patricia says. 

Her very personal and uplifting story shows both sides.

The diverse and comprehensive client services at St. Ann Place continue to expand, at last count handled by seven full-time staffers, assisted by four part-time employees. 

In addition to those previously mentioned, these include: Associate Director Sister Patricia Leonard, Health Care Advocate, who has experience in social services, case management and crisis intervention; Carla LaRue, Associate Director in Clients Services and a liaison among work programs, who comes from an HR background; Associate Director Melissa Tyner, the volunteer coordinator, who has financial services experience; and Associate Director Joanne Caruso, who comes to SAP with past experience in the New Jersey Federalw Court system. 

Aiding these full and part-time staff members are a group of approximately 85 dedicated, active volunteers, many of whom have been donating their time and efforts for 10 or more years. 

The duties of volunteers include: food preparation and service, laundry, registering and welcoming clients, organization of donations, and often lending a caring, friendly ear to the many people they encounter each day.

Diane Reeves
Diane Reeves
Diane Reeves is a freelance writer whose professional background includes careers in corporate communications and teaching.She is from the metropolitan New York City area, where she worked nearly 20 years in Manhattan for a global media company. Now living in Palm Beach County, Diane enjoys all the area has to offer in cultural, social and recreational activities. Her interests include yoga, beach-time, her rescue dog, and singing in the choir of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. She says, “The beauty of my surroundings here strengthens my core faith, and I am thankful for each day.” Diane can do freelance writing for magazines, newsletters and corporate communications, including marketing, public relations, internal messaging and social media. She can be reached at: [email protected].

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