BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Starting in spring of 2024, the Salvation Army will undergo a massive, $100 million transformation. Much of the work will be done on their Main Street campus, downtown near the Medical Campus.
The Salvation Army reports one-third of people in the City of Buffalo are at or below the poverty line, and at any given time, thousands could be in need of the services they provide.
Stephanie Lugo found herself in need when she moved to Buffalo back in 2014, with her six kids.
“My older son wanted to go to college here,” Lugo said.
Before moving to the Queen City, Lugo found an apartment online and was talking frequently over the phone with the landlords. She said they seemed nice.
“We would talk once or twice a week, he and his wife sent us pictures of the apartment in front of the house,” Lugo said.
When the family arrived though, Lugo found out it was all a scam. After a series of events that included their belongings getting stolen, the family was referred to the Salvation Army emergency family shelter with just the clothing on their backs.
“I told her, we have nothing,” Lugo said, remembering the day she was greeted at the door of the emergency family shelter. “She said, ‘Don’t worry.’ When we finished the intake and eating, I don’t know how she caught our sized by looking at us, but she got everybody’s sizes. She told me, put the clothing you have on in this bag and we’ll wash it for you.”
The emergency family shelter runs 24/7.
“When they first come into the door, they are met with one of our resident assistants who will go over what our day-to-day will look like for them, they will wash their clothes, they will be assigned a case manager, and the case manager will go over their goals,” Gerrod Bennett said, the director of residential services at the Salvation Army in Buffalo.
Gerrod Bennett said families get three meals a day at the shelter, and so much more.
Kids are put in school, and the school bus will pick them up right from the shelter. If the family had a school they went to before coming to the shelter, the Salvation Army will make sure they attend the same one, and get busing.
Case workers help the parents with job placement, counseling and anything else they may need.
“We can hold up to 33 families, 77 individuals,” Bennett said.
But most importantly, the families are given hope.
Lugo found an apartment of her own within a month. By the end of the year, she was hired by the Salvation Army to help give back to others.
“We let them know, this is not rock bottom,” Lugo said. “This the beginning of a second chance. And not everyone is given a second chance. And we let them know, ‘you are not alone, you are safe, you have an arsenal of people behind you now that’s going to help you to overcome anything and everything.”
Unfortunately though, the shelter has started to show its age.
“We need a more modern space … more modern furniture,” Bennett said.
The shelter building is a former hotel that went up in 1960.
“It no longer provides the kind of atmosphere that we need, the most helpful, healing, encouraging kind of place to come in and rebuild their lives,” said Major Annette Lock, the director of operations at the Salvation Army in Erie County.
In three phases, several buildings will get torn down on the 3-acre campus downtown, and new ones will go up. They’re calling the project ‘Hope on Main.’
A new emergency shelter will be built with more rooms for more people to stay there, along with more space for families to use for their healing.
“(There will be) a computer lab and learning center for our families to come in and use computers, teen room and nursery … all the things that are needed,” Lock said.
Lock said affordable housing is harder and harder to find in Buffalo, so in the second phase, 142 new affordable housing units will get built. Behind those units, there will be 17 townhomes, which will all have three bedrooms.
Phase three will include a new community center on Buffalo’s East Side.
The entire project will cost around $100 million.
“Phase one is $16 million and we’re happy to report, we’re about 80% of the way to having phase 1 funded,” Lock said.
The state has awarded a $10 million grant to the project. Lock said Erie County also plans to put money toward the project, and they’re working the City of Buffalo, too.
The staff says this project will be a game-changer.
“What we’re able to accomplish with more … can really be amazing and impressive and make a huge difference in Buffalo,” advisory board member Christian Gaddis said.