By Berit Ollestad
It’s often said “home is where the heart is.”
Homeless Solutions Inc. has put a lot of heart–and $1.3 million–into renovating the Mt. Kemble Home in Morristown.
The upgrades will enable the historic home to accommodate 22 senior women, up from 19.
Founded by ladies of the local Presbyterian Church in 1883, the facility provides safety and shelter for older women of limited financial means. It’s a home where they can live out their years without fear of eviction.
Back in the 19th century, widows had no inherent rights to their husbands’ property; if a will did not provide for them, they were on their own. Even today, many senior women find themselves struggling to support themselves after their spouse’s death or a fiscal crisis.
“It was a safety net for me, and for so many other women. You’ve done a great, great service to all of us, and I thank you,” one of the residents told the Homeless Solutions board at a recent ceremony dedicating the renovations.
The woman said her career as an event planner tanked during the economic meltdown in 2008; by 2012, she no longer could afford her apartment.
“I was really in trouble,” the woman recounted. “A friend said, ‘Why don’t you look into Morristown? They have a place there that you might be interested in.'”
Mayor Tim Dougherty praised the Mt. Kemble Home as “part of the fabric of our Historic District. “It fits in well with Morristown’s history,” he said at the ceremony.
He and Homeless Solutions CEO Dan McGuire remain committed to providing affordable housing in Morristown, he said.
“Homeless Solutions and their partners should be commended for providing decades of affordable housing for seniors,” the Mayor said.
“The town has been incredible to work with. They have been so accommodating with anything that we may have needed during the renovation,” said McGuire, who joined HSI in 2004 and became CEO last year.
- A new roof.
- Upgraded electrical, plumbing, heating and sprinkler systems
- Modernized residents’ rooms.
- Improvements to the elevator, making it ADA-compliant.
- Upgraded bathrooms.
- Conversion of a small kitchenette into a commercial-grade community kitchen.
- Replacement of gas ranges with microwave ovens in residents’ rooms.
Funding for the improvements came from grants from the TD Charitable Foundation, the Federal Home Loan Bank of NY and Valley National Bank; and from a Homeless Solutions capital campaign.
“It isn’t very often banks fund boarding houses,” McGuire said with pride.
The Mayor said he looks forward to working with Homeless Solutions on an eight-unit affordable housing project at 88 Martin Luther King Ave.
Established in 1983, the nonprofit Homeless Solutions owns and manages 57 units. Those units housed 120 people, including 47 children, in 2015. HSI sheltered and housed another 345 people, including 81 children, in its shelter and transitional housing program.
In 2013, the organization–which goes by the motto “A Hand up, not a Handout,” assumed control of the Mt. Kemble Home, which is on state- and federal historic registers.
“We knew that if we didn’t make the necessary improvements on the home, we would lose it and never get it back,” said former Homeless Solutions CEO Betsey Hall.
“The real heroes in all of this are the former board members [of the Mt. Kemble Home] who didn’t allow their egos to get in the way. They recognized that by turning it over to Homeless Solutions, we could bring it back to life,” Hall said.