Groups of volunteers and donors oohed and aahed as they toured the newly renovated Union Mission Ministries shelter for single women and children on Saturday afternoon.
More than 150 people came to celebrate the unveiling of the shelter at the campus of the Christian organization, which provides for homeless and impoverished people. The renovations cost around $300,000, officials said.
“There’s a tremendous need for what’s back here,” the Rev. John Gray, the new executive director of Union Mission, said to a group assembled outside. “It’s going to change lives.”
The more than 25,000-square-foot shelter at 5100 E. Virginia Beach Blvd. was the home of the organization’s men’s shelter. That shelter moved to an $18 million site next door in July, and the women in need will move in starting at the end of June.
The building can accommodate 70 single women and eight families – each family with their own room and private bathroom. Women on their own tend to stay an average of three to six months, said spokeswoman Linda Jones. In its current, smaller location on the same campus, more than 500 women were turned away between January and June 2015 because of a lack of space, officials said.
Single mothers can stay with children up to 18 years old. That struck a chord with a tearful Karen King, a Union Mission volunteer who hosts Bible studies for women in the shelter. She also has several sons.
“So often (kids) are not able to come to the shelter after a certain age,” King said. “This is something so needed in this area; so many people are hurting.”
Lynn Lawrence also walked around the new place. She won’t stay there, but for seven months she lived in the old shelter just behind, after having issues living with her sister.
“It helped me to get on my feet; I couldn’t have done it without it,” said Lawrence, who has been working at Hilltop Shopping Center’s The Fresh Market since she left the shelter in 2014. “I would’ve never thought things were possible.”
The shelter will provide a hair salon, computer lab, lounge, playground, wellness center and more in addition to one-on-one help from case managers.
“There are so many people down on their luck,” said state Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, who attended the ceremony. “This is an opportunity to get them back up.”