The Creation of the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter, 1988

Despite the success of Hope House, a number in St. George’s realized that that the problem of homelessness was larger than one entity. Hope House was for permanent residents. What about others? 

The predecessor of the Outreach Commission, the Human Need Commission in 1987 studied promoting adequate housing. They found the waiting list for affordable housing long and many found it difficult to pay a mortgage. They heard B. B. Taylor, a Richmond banker, talk about how Richmond churches had joined together to fill the gap to raise the funds and provide volunteer help. Before Adequate housing programs could be developed, the needs of those on the street had to be addressed.

The churches banded together in a meeting Nov. 2, 1987 in the then “Family Room”. A program was developed to house people during the winter months. Program to Be Jan through March 1988. St. George’s would do 2 weeks. Catherine Hicks and Thurman Brisben were the shelter conveners. Ann Bolton director of Hope House was a driving force behind program. She estimated that there were 500 people with no permanent shelter

The shelter was at St. George’s in the Family Room temporarily when St. George’s held it and then shifted to Maury School before it was converted to condominiums.

Unlike with Hope House, this involved cooperation with the faith community and many outside volunteers.  The shelter would have 60 beds. It would be a night shelter open during the winter only

In May, 1988 representatives from a variety of organizations named to steering committee to establish permanent coalition with Board of Directors.

In 1989, the Service Commission (predecessor of Outreach) came up with a plan for dispersal of funds in  4 entities. Their vision had expanded recently

#1. traditional groups supported by St George s- Interfaith Community Council , Hospice, Rapp Area Community Services Board, Volunteer Emergency Foster Care, St. Paul’s College, Big Brothers

#2. Develop of plan for church involved in low- income housing efforts such as Habitat or the purchase or renovation of existing Housing.  At that time M. C. Moncure was the chair for Habitat

#3. Plan continued support Hope House

#4. Continued to support the Shelter at Maury

St. George took turns with the Maury shelter in the following years:

  1. 1989- March 26-April 2.  6 volunteers were needed each night
  2. 1990- Shelter March 25-April 1
  3. Jan 6-12, March 17-23, 1991.

An article in 1990, estimated that 40% of the homeless were  women and children and that shelters have become “an inescapable part of city service.”

A food pantry was also organized at Maury Food pantry at Maury in 1990. Churches would collect canned food distributed to needy families.  30 families served in the first year and was a predecessor of our own pantry than lasted until the Table began in 2012

Rachel Edmonds, a counselor, presented two sessions, Dec. 1990 and Feb.,1991  on working with homeless people

By this time, a proposal was circulated for a year round 100 bed shelter. Would the individual churches support this expansion?  St. George’s responded in March 1991, that it could not support an expanded 100 bed year round shelter “because it would strain our volunteer and financial resources”.  The shelter cost $680 in January, 1991 and about $500 the second week.  It was not just money but the time of existing volunteers who are being “burned out.” St. George’s advocated keeping the shelter “similar to the present shelter” in size.  The first priority was Hope House thought the church conceded that Hope House does not “answer all the needs of shelter residents.”

The churches met together concerning the future of the homeless shelter. The city did not have plans for a shelter in the winter of 1991. The consensus of the meeting was to meet with the city to see how they would deal with the situation. The churches were trying to develop a plan if the city called upon them to run it.  The Salvation Army volunteered to handle the shelter paper work involved the intake of homeless.

The city in the end decided that the Salvation Army should administer shelter. The city approved $23K for it and a temporary industrial park site

The local shelter was named for Thurman Brisben who died of cancer in January, 1990. The current shelter web site remembered Thurman – “But there was one place the homeless could always go, and one person to whom they could always turn — Thurman Brisben. During the day she kept an office at Saint George’s. She was always there to listen, to counsel, to help find medical attention, to provide guidance through social services applications, and to help find jobs. Many remember her at the Maury School location as the “the tiny lady with white hair who looked like the wind could blow her over.” But she was strong and when she stared down (actually, up) a client, he or she would do anything Thurman asked! 

The question of a location of the shelter has threatened its existence. The shelter had to move out of its location at 513 Essex St. which it had occupied since 1998 so the land could be developed for office space and apartments. It was scheduled to close in December, 2002. For two years, the shelter sought to locate a new location after notification that their lease will expire. The search for a new home for Thurman Brisben was long and difficult.

In January, 2002, Marion Rambo moved that the Register of the Vestry send a letter to the editor of The Free Lance-Star, putting St. George’s on record of being in support of finding the Shelter a new home this year.

In August, 2002, the Vestry went on record that The Vestry of St. George’s fully supports the continuation of the Thurman Brisben Shelter in the city and our having representation on a coalition now forming to advocate for the Shelter. Charles Sydnor announced the creation of the SAVE OUR SHELTER (SOS) coalition to be an advocate for the city government to continue to seek a new home for the Shelter. The first meeting was to be August 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church. A letter writing campaign was underway by November.

The shelter had tried to relocate near downtown Fredericksburg but was consistently rebuffed by residents.

In May, 2003, the shelter was interested in a site in the industrial park owned by the city’s Industrial Development Authority. The city planned to buy the land with federal Community Development Block grants and turn it over to the shelter. However, the IDA voted against the sale

Shelter officials, with the help of the Save Our Shelter Coalition, signed a contract to buy the Colonial Inn and a 15,000-square-foot-warehouse at the rear of the property for $1.8 million.The purchase was part of a grand plan by the coalition–made up of clergy from downtown churches–to revamp Princess Anne Street from the U.S. 1 Bypass to Amelia Street. However, the property turned out would take longer and the price tag was too high to develop and July, 2003 the shelter abandoned these plans and refocused its attention on the industrial park

The current shelter on Central Road was developed in 2005. It came after a 4 year search when the existing location off Lafayette Blvd was to be developed for apartments and offices. They wanted to continue to operate an 80 bed facility

The shelter has written that the “Center is supported by over 75 area churches and faith-based organizations,from across the four county community,  to include the Beth Sholom Temple and the Islamic Center.” The mission is similar to the original shelter – “To provide at-risk and homeless men, women and children of Caroline County, King George County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, and the city of Fredericksburg with appropriate and essential shelter and services to affect positive life changes. In FY 2015, the Brisben Center served 538 unduplicated men, women and children; 73 were children.