Weeks before grand opening, shelter burns

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – On Sunday, April 29, the dream of opening a new shelter for those fleeing domestic violence almost went up in flames. Catholic Charities was only a few weeks away from opening a new shelter in Jackson when an abandoned house next to the facility caught fire. The flames were so intense, they jumped to the roof of the facility.
“It was pretty devastating,” said John Lunardini, COO of Catholic Charities Jackson. Investigators continue to look for a cause, but Lunardini said the blaze may have started when a vagrant started a fire inside the abandoned house to stay warm on the cold night.
Catholic Charities was going to purchase the house and tear it down to put in a play area for children, but did not yet own the property. This move has been about four years and a million dollars in the making. When the previous shelter was facing some costly repairs, the Catholic Charities board looked at all the available options and decided moving to a new facility was the best approach.
After an exhaustive search, Charities found a new site and started work more than a year ago. The new facility, once renovated, could house nine families at a time. The building included rooms for staff members to be housed on-site to assist victims 24-hours a day. Other amenities include a therapeutic group and counseling area, a suite of offices, a family room, commercial kitchen facilities, a dining area and bathing facilities. The shelter will serve Copiah, Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Issaquena, Sharkey, Simpson, Yazoo and Warren counties.
Workers had begun to move in furniture and plans were in place to tear down the house next door when the fire erupted. Fire damaged the roof and firefighters had to smash a window to get inside to douse the flames. There is also water damage inside, but cleanup started within 12 hours of the fire under the supervision of Restoration 1 and program directors are hopeful they can evover.
The Domestic Violence program offers more than just shelter. Case workers and counselors work with survivors, usually women and their children to start a whole new life. Families must attend counseling. Survivors get childcare, help finding a new job and a new place to live and have access to resources even after they leave the shelter.
Counselors told Mississippi Catholic in 2016 that it can take time for a woman to transition from feeling like a victim to taking charge of her life. She needs support and sometimes some practical knowledge to break the cycle of violence and control abusers use against them.
The program can still use furniture and cash donations to get the renovations back on track. Insurance will cover repair to some of the damage to the building, but the agency will need to cover the gap and the program is always looking for items for the families who stay with them such as toiletries, clothing, gift cards for stores and toys for the children. To make a donation, call 601-355-8634 or donate online at www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.