Oak City Outreach Center celebrates success and new beginnings

On Sunday, March 24, the last meals were served from the Oak City Outreach Center. For almost five years, the City of Raleigh, the Raleigh Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, the Raleigh Police Department, and Catholic Charities have collaborated to make the center a success. During that time, nearly 400,000 meals were shared with individuals experiencing homelessness and hunger on weekends.

“What exceeded expectations was the energy and the warmth of all the volunteers and support from the partnership working with Catholic Charities,” shared Scott Payne, assistant director of the Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department.

In 2013, the City of Raleigh and the Raleigh Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness came together to develop a plan for improving the way the Raleigh community serves individuals experiencing homelessness. The plan resulted in two program ideas. The first was a short-term solution to improve the way meals were being shared on weekends in Moore Square, which led to the formation of the Oak City Outreach Center operated by Catholic Charities. The second, a long-term solution, would be a collaboration of multiple community partners over several years addressing core issues of homelessness.

As the operator of the Oak City Outreach Center, Catholic Charities worked with community agencies to coordinate groups to share meals at the center in an organized way. Catholic Charities also worked with individual volunteers to ensure everyone had a way of giving back through the Oak City Outreach Center.

One key partnership that Catholic Charities formed from the beginning was with the Raleigh Police Department.

“We knew that we needed to be a part of this movement,” shared Raleigh Police Chief Deck-Brown. “Being able to come out here and be a part of the activities and the Oak City Outreach Center afforded us the opportunity, not to just stand security and guard the place, but to build a relationship. As I walked up here today, as I have done several times, the greetings from our residents who visit the center frequently have been nothing but handshakes and hugs.”

When the center opened, 25 community partners distributed 746 meals during the first weekend. Over the past four-and-a-half years, the center has grown and now has over 70 community partners and over 1,000 volunteers, who serve more than 1,500 meals each weekend.

“What we have seen here is that we have been able to get folks together,” shared David Smoot, board chair for The Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. “One of the greatest partnerships that we established was with Catholic Charities, who really has led the way in helping to bring other groups together in a very positive way.”

On Sunday, the culmination of the hard work and success was celebrated with Catholic Charities presenting certificates of appreciation to the City of Raleigh, the Raleigh Police Department, the Partnership, volunteers and Catholic Charities staff.

For Abby Szymanski, executive director of the Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, it was the community involvement that led to the success of the program. “I think the efforts of the city to create this space, and Catholic Charities really investing the energy and the heart into all of it and corralling this many volunteers and groups, everybody coming together and partnering was great to see.”

“We are grateful to the City of Raleigh for providing resources and the Raleigh/Wake Partnership for their support and advocating for the Oak City Outreach Center and Oak City Cares,” shared Tosheria Brown, program coordinator for the Oak City Outreach Center and future Director of Programs and Services at Oak City Cares. “I also want to thank our dedicated volunteers who showed up and made it happen. And, of course, our guests for allowing us to share in their journey.”

With the success of the Oak City Outreach Center came the second phase to addressing the issue of homelessness in the Wake County Community.

“This was always seen as a transitional step in the process of becoming a truly compassionate community,” shared Smoot. “As we move from here, where weekend meals are served, we’re excited about continuing to serve food and fellowship in a new location, but also having wraparound services that can make the service needs more accessible to people.”

Catholic Charities will again take the lead in providing more comprehensive services to individuals experiencing homelessness as the operator of Oak City Cares. The goal of Oak City Cares is to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring in Wake County by quickly and effectively connecting people with the services that will help them secure housing, find employment, and improve their health.

Making Oak City Cares possible are Wake County and the City of Raleigh, who contributed a combined $10.4 million to purchase and renovate a facility at 1430 South Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh.

“The partnerships had this goal of providing a continuum of care, this opportunity for multiple services,” shared Payne. “It’s good to have stretch goals, and this one was. With the effort and the energy, the support of the community, they reached that goal [with Oak City Cares].”

Beginning Saturday, March 30, weekend meal sharing will become part of the new Oak City Cares program, with additional supportive services beginning on Wednesday, April 10.

“The steps that have been taken between so many partners at the table really speaks to providing, not just a building created with bricks and mortar, but to afford our community an opportunity to see and know what resources are available for them in a one-stop shop and address some of those other needs beyond not having a meal to eat,” shared Chief Deck-Brown.

On Monday, April 8, Oak City Cares will hold a ribbon cutting to celebrate the program opening. More details about the ribbon cutting can be found at www.CatholicCharitiesRaleigh.org/OCC-Ribbon-Cutting. For more information about how to access services or to support Oak City Cares, please visit www.OakCityCares.org.