OLEAN — The hallways that lead to the numerous bedrooms, bathrooms and rooms in the former St. John’s convent are long — and the staff at Genesis House couldn’t be happier that they have found a warm, spacious home for people with nowhere else to turn for shelter.
Earlier this week, Linore Lounsbury, executive director of the Genesis House homeless shelter, provided an informal tour of the three-story convent at 943 North Union St. Ext. which will provide temporary shelter and services for women and families.
In April, the city Zoning Board of Appeals granted a use variance to St. John’s Church for the church’s former convent to serve as a new home for Genesis House’ women and families shelter. The convent, which had housed Franciscan Sisters in the past, was provided to Genesis House by the church for $1 a year, Lounsbury noted.
“There are nine bedrooms, with one handicapped-accessible bedroom” on the first floor, Lounsbury said, noting offices will also be located on the first floor along with a kitchen and dining area. Also included on the first floor is a house manager’s apartment.
Lounsbury said Genesis House will seek approval from the city of Olean for renovations that include the construction of a handicap ramp and some interior work. She said the nonprofit agency has applied for state grants to pay for most of the work.
A walk up one of the two sets of stairs to the second floor revealed bedrooms and bathrooms of varying sizes that can accommodate families with children, or individuals. A laundry room will also be placed in the upstairs.
“Isn’t this nice, isn’t this homey,” Lounsbury said of bedrooms that still had beds and dressers. “Hopefully the community will help us with decorating it all up — adopt a room, maybe.”
Genesis House volunteer, Crystal Boyles, added, “Think of all the prayers that went up in this building … I get goose bumps just looking through here, it is so amazing.”
Lounsbury said the ample space provided in the former convent, which has stood empty for approximately six years, will be able to house up to four families. This combined with accommodations for five families at Genesis House’ South Barry Street structure will allow the organization to shelter up to nine families at one time.
In addition, a a full basement in the building will be used for the storage of supplies and food needed for the families.
Lounsbury said it won’t be difficult to run two shelters for the needy, as it is harder to turn away people who have nowhere else to stay.
“A lady called me yesterday and told me she was going to sleep in a storage building,” Lounsbury said in providing an example of the need in the community. “I said, ‘You can’t sleep in a storage building; there’s no heat, there’s no water, there’s no bathroom.’”
Lounsbury said there are currently two full-time staff and three part-timers at Genesis House, with the remainder of help provided by volunteers. Therefore more volunteers and donations will be needed with the future opening of the new shelter.
Lounsbury noted people who reside at the shelter will be required to follow curfews, will be accessed for addiction and closely monitored, while receiving services to get back on their feet and obtain housing. The same rules have been used right along at the South Barry Street shelter.
For more information on the new facility or to volunteer, contact Genesis House at 373-3354. Donations can be mailed to: Genesis House, 107 S. Barry St., Olean, NY 14760.