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Wide scope to be reflected in new, larger City Mission building

Buffalo City Mission has permission to put together its financial package for a new building, but it is a different building and different services than when it started as a soup kitchen nearly a century ago.

The mission had to cut back its plans and ambitions when the money was not there for a $31 million plan that would have tripled the mission's size. Instead, the mission is moving forward with a $15 million plan for a new building and demolition of the current structure, built in 1984.

Mission CEO and Executive Director Stuart Harper says they have come far from that soup kitchen from long ago. The new facility will help the traditional customers, but will also help those who are taking active steps to rebuild their lives, from job training to going to Erie Community College and then on to a four-year college.

Harper said the problems of the men today are different from the mission's start long ago.

"A lot more drug addiction, a lot more mental illness, a lot of people come to us with medical issues, but back then we were a soup kitchen. We didn't really provide a lot of extensive extra services," Harper said. "Today, we're all about when somebody leaves us after our transitional program, they are ready to manage themselves and their lives and hold a full-time job and understand what it means to hold a full-time job."

Harper says the male clients are often tired and worn out.

"They're not 33 with a swagger anymore. They're 45-50 years old and they're done, because you find many of the homeless men that come to us are 20 years ahead of a normal person from a health point of view," he said. "So they are having health issues a 55- or 60-year old man would have at 40-45."

Harper said the goal is to help people rebuild their lives and go on to better lives and jobs and their own homes.

"Citizen of Buffalo and contribute back to society," he said. "Now, there are men and women that will go through our program that don't have the capacity to do a lot and they're on disability, but they can still become tremendous volunteers as long as they're taking their medical, mental health issues, they're taking their medication, they're taking their medication, because there's a reason for them to wake up in the morning because they are part of something bigger than themselves."

Harper said that is reflected in the design for the new building, from its private space for the homeless who come for a bed and a meal to the housing units for people who will spend years there as long as they are working on rebuilding their lives. He said the design also reflects what the City Mission has learned about rebuilding lives from its women's facility, Cornerstone Manor, at the other end of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The goal is to have the money in place so work can start later this year to demolish the old building and open the new building by late next year.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.