House of Mercy to resume services tomorrow

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The House of Mercy reopens tomorrow.

Closed since an August stabbing attack that left one resident dead and another gravely injured, the 76-bed nonprofit homeless shelter on Ormond Street is the largest facility of its type in Rochester. As cold weather is about to set in, the Nov. 1 reopening would close what has been a substantial hole in the city’s social service safety net.

The resumption of services comes days after the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance greenlighted its reopening last week, says Ed Hourihan Jr., House of Mercy board chair.

The state agency opened an investigation into the stabbing incident shortly after it occurred. The House of Mercy also hired Harris Beach PLLC to conduct a private probe of the incident. Hourihan says the facility’s board has worked on a restructuring plan since August.

Founded in 1985 and until this year run by a Catholic nun, Sister Grace Miller, the House of Mercy vowed to “serve the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable among us—the mentally ill, the alcohol and drug addicted, the lonely, the broken, the imprisoned and the unwanted. We welcome everyone without judgment.”

The shelter does not plan to abandon that mission, but in light of the August tragedy, Hourihan says, it must observe new safety protocols. 

Newly adopted measures include a metal detector through which all visitors to the facility must pass. Existing rules will also be adhered to more strictly. Prior to the stabbing incident, for example, a curfew that was supposed to keep residents from leaving and returning to the shelter after a specific time had been only laxly observed. Now, says Hourihan, that rule will be strictly adhered to.

In the August attack, House of Mercy guest Nathaniel Jeanpierre III allegedly assailed fellow residents in what police at the time said was an unprovoked attack with a large sheath knife. He has been indicted on charges of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault. Jeanpierrie, who is being held without bail, pleaded not guilty.  

Approximately a month after the attack, the House of Mercy’s 15-member board voted unanimously to sever ties with Sister Grace and her longtime right hand and fellow nun, Sister Rita Lewis.

Relations between the board and the House of Mercy founder had been strained since March, when the board hired a social services professional, Tammy Butler, to assume a newly created position as executive director—a development, Sister Grace told a reporter at the time, that made her feel like “we got somebody better.”

The board’s September decision to cut ties with Sister Grace and Sister Rita was “extremely difficult to make, one of the hardest I’ve ever made personally,” Hourihan told the Rochester Beacon last month.

In a statement, Butler promised in September that she and the board would remain “fully committed to providing hope, healing, compassionate care, unconditional love, and a sense of community for our guests. The legacy of Sister Grace will endure through our inspired commitment to the poorest citizens of our city.”

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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