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Meet the people working to turn an old convent into a building for homeless families

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:28:55-04

(WXYZ) — For decades, the Cass Community Social Services Building at 14th St. and Webb was home to nuns who served visitation Catholic Church and School, and the surrounding community.

Now, young people from Dexter and other volunteer groups are hard at work cleaning the cafeteria and tackling other tasks as renovation of the building continues.

“I think the Nuns would be happy," Rev. Faith Fowler said.

Fowler is shepherding the project, which will bring homeless families off the streets in the coming months.

“Privacy, dignity, autonomy safety, right, all of those are important," Fowler said.

Providing that has been impossible for Cass Community Social Services at its emergency and warming shelters, which temporarily house those in need in one large room.

“Imagine trying to get your kids to sleep in a room with 50 people, where other kids maybe aren’t wanting to go to sleep, or other adults are perhaps wanting to watch TV or somebody’s got a cold or the flu, or COVID," Fowler added.

The former convent has 30 individual bedrooms that will allow families to stay together.

“It’s the first step in off the street, where women with kids and occasionally men with kids, can figure out a way forward with the help of the staff," Fowler said.

Adding male bathrooms is a major task in the renovation for Michael Van Antwerp, who is managing the project.

“Because it was a convent, the restrooms are only for women, so we have to rip out those restrooms and create male and female restrooms on all three floors," he said.

The chapel, with its stained-glass windows intact, will become a study area with internet access.

“The ceiling’s perfect, we don’t see any leaking so this will be a great area for kids to come and do work, do study," he said. "Comcast gave us free WiFI."

Retiree Don Redding is part of the volunteer group giving the building's interior a fresh look.

“Our group has painted pretty much all the rooms on the second floor, and they’ve lined up the third floor for us to get started on at our convenience and we’ll just keep working away at it," Redding said.

The goal is to make it a comfortable place for the families that will be service there.

“Catholicism and Nuns in particular, have a bent for social justice and for works of mercy," Fowler said. "I think they would be very pleased that the building is continued to be used for the ministry of sorts that help people who are really in need."