Interview: Karen Carman, Director of the Matt Urban Hope Center

The Matt Urban Hope Center opened a few months ago in Polonia Hall on Paderewski Drive.  A couple of weeks ago I sent the Hope Center’s Director Karen Carman some questions about the Center and she was kind enough to respond.

BFA: What was the inspiration and the impetus to open the Hope Center?

KC: My partner, Joyelle Tedeschi, and I have worked together for many years (crisis Services and then the YWCA of WNY. We saw a gap in services to the homeless on the east-side. As an MSW intern, Joyelle did a community needs assessment which revealed needs, not only for the homeless, but for people at high risk of becoming homeless, e.g. those living in extreme proverty. Current homeless programs provide services to the homeless only – our Hope Center provides services to anyone in need in our service area.

BFA: Why was the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood chosen for the center?

KC: Once a thriving neighborhood – the most populous of the east-side – Broadway-Fillmore has seen a 50% reduction in its population over that time period primarily due to the loss of well-paying jobs and a faltering economy. As a result, the community has seen a dramatic shift in its complexion from traditional two-parent family homes to single, mother-headed households with young children (nearly 30% of residents are under 18 years of age) and senior citizens who have lived in the community for most of their lives (approximately 16% of the local population).

The community’s unemployment rate approaches 17% and nearly 25% of persons aged twenty-five years and older do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Only 6.7% of persons in this age range have secured a bachelor’s or graduate degree. As a result, nearly 40% of community residents live below the federal poverty line – one of the highest rates in the city of Buffalo.

BFA: What types of services do you offer?

KC: We offer assistance with employment searches, financial wellness classes, budget mentors, computer classes designed to enhance job marketability, benefit screening, free tax prep and an asset development program. Many of these services require appointments and some are offered in the form of workshops.

BFA: Are you going to add additional services?

KC: In a partnership with Friends of Night People we recently opened the “Urban Diner” and are now serving free dinners on Wednesday night for the community (3 pm – 5 pm). Friends of Night People prepare and deliver the meals and Hope Center workers serve restaurant-style to community residents. Depending on funding, we hope to increase to 2-3 times per week. We also plan to work with Matt Urban’s Crime Victims Department to develop a support group to victims of crimes.

BFA: Do you have any needs for donations from the community?

Yes. We need gloves, scarfs, socks, winter coats, and blankets. We also try to keep a supply of toiletry items for the homeless as well.

BFA: How bad is the homeless problem in Buffalo?

KC: According to the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, 2100 people are homeless each night and there are about 200-300 living on the streets or in abandoned buildings. We have seen a definite increase in the number of situationally homeless which we attribute to the poor economy in general.

BFA: What do you think the greatest misconception people have about the homeless?

KC: That people “choose” to be homeless. When someone ‘chooses’ anything it this implies that they have a choice, or are at least aware of their choices. Those with mental illness are often unaware of their choices and may think homelessness is their only option. As outreach workers and homeless, we strive to identify those individuals who have difficulty navigating the many complex systems homeless individuals must go through.

BFA: Are there any early success stories you would like to share from the Hope Center?

KC: Our Urban Diner kitchen staff is comprised entirely of workers in the Safety Net Achievement Program, meaning families receiving Temporary Assistance engage in work activity that is designed to give them real life work experience. All the workers are dedicated,efficient and thorough.

BFA: How can people contact you and the center?

KC: The Center is open from 9 – 4 pm Monday through Friday at 385 Paderewski Drive. Appointments can be made by calling 855-2124.

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Thanks Karen!

You can also follow the Hope Center on Facebook by clicking here