Detroit's Pope Francis Center relocates to TCF Center for winter

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted routines for many, and Detroit’s Pope Francis Center is not immune.

As Michigan’s first cases were reported in March, the nonprofit that has worked to help the homeless for 30 years shifted its efforts outdoors, which proved prudent when more visitors sought food and other services in the following months.

Now, as colder weather arrives and demand remains as cases surge again, the center is relocating to the TCF Center in downtown Detroit for the winter.

The city’s Housing & Revitalization Department is awarding a $300,000 emergency solutions grant to cover some costs of the move, while the center launches a $250,000 fundraising campaign.

The temporary move, which starts Tuesday and is scheduled to last through March 31, allows coordinators more space to follow COVID-19 federal and state guidelines while protecting their clients from the elements, said the Rev. Tim McCabe, the center’s executive director.

“It was such an answer to my prayers that we were able to get this opportunity,” he said. 

The center, which became a nonprofit in 2015, helps guests with meals, showers, laundry and other services.

For months, the center on St. Antoine had been operating out of its nearby parking lot, from tents, with sanitation measures as well as shower facilities brought in. The nonprofit also offered medical clinics.

The day center typically opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and offered two homemade meals daily to around 200 people before the pandemic. Since then, “we’ve never been below that,” McCabe said. “We’ve served as many as 530 meals a day.”

While the population has fluctuated, it remains high and is “clearly on the increase,” he said. “With people losing their jobs and the stimulus money running out, people increasingly find themselves in a financial crisis.”

It has been challenging as well as strained the center’s staff and resources. To ensure it could still accommodate others during the winter, coordinators explored their options and turned to the city.

“Detroit is committed to helping all of its residents and to assisting the organizations that serve the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Arthur Jemison, group executive with Detroit’s Housing, Planning and Development. “The Pope Francis Center is doing incredible work, and we are proud to support them in their mission while ensuring the health and safety of Detroiters during the pandemic.”

Patrick Bero, CEO and CFO for the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, added: “We will do whatever is possible to answer the needs of the Pope Francis Center to continue operations during COVID.”

The TCF Center will offer food, shelter, hygiene and medical attention, officials said. 

Those using the services are allowed to shelter until 1 p.m. each day or for longer under extreme winter weather conditions. They enter through a private entrance, undergo temperature checks and are housed in a private area with a dedicated ventilation system, coordinators said.

The offerings are separate from a section that state and federal officials have designated a temporary alternate care facility. It “will again (be) activated by the Michigan governor when the need should arise,” according to the TCF website.

Since the space is so large and Pope Francis Center will operate on a different level, “we won’t have any overlap,” McCabe said.

To continue the program through spring, center officials are seeking donations through its "Sanctuary for the Season" campaign.

“As the situation grows more desperate, the people of the bottom socioeconomic ladder are the most impacted by the downturn,” McCabe said. “We just need to be able to take care of each other during these times.”