When most people think of Cape Cod, they picture shingled cottages and white sand beaches. Jill Wertz Scalise ’88 knows that Cape Cod. But she also sees another, where life is anything but a vacation.
Scalise is director of case management for an organization called Overnights of Hospitality, which provides homeless men and women on Cape Cod with food, shelter, and access to services. Tapping more than 300 volunteers from 40 churches on the Cape, the group makes sure there is housing available every night of the year. Scalise, who has worked with homeless populations in Boston and Philadelphia, says Cape Codders aren’t immune.
“The homeless situation is extremely different on Cape Cod than it is in inner-city Philly,” she said. “But there is still a problem. There is a problem anytime folks are without housing.”
A recent count showed more than 700 people were homeless. But there is only one homeless shelter for individuals on the Cape, Scalise said, a facility in Hyannis with 60 beds. Working with the Salvation Army and other agencies, Overnights of Hospitality makes sure that two churches have facilities open every night (one for men, one for women) and that longer-term help is available to people without housing,
That’s where Scalise comes in as the case manager. She moved to Brewster, Mass., 16 years ago when her husband, Doug Scalise ’86, became pastor of Brewster Baptist Church. Overnights of Hospitality, which started in 2001, provided only shelter until Jill Scalise brought her skills to bear when she was hired in 2004 to provide case management. “It was serendipitous,” she said.
She’s been interested in homelessness since her senior year at Colby, when she volunteered at the Sacred Heart Church soup kitchen in Waterville. After Colby she spent a year working in Boston at St. Francis House, a day program for the homeless. “After that I decided, yes, this is what I want to do,” she said.
Scalise earned her master’s degree in social work and a master’s in law and social policy at Bryn Mawr. An internship connected her with a program for the homeless in Philadelphia, where she worked with people who had been banned from the city’s shelter system. Scalise did street outreach, driving around the city in a van at night and trying to entice the hardcore homeless to return to the shelters.
In Philadelphia and Boston many of her clients suffered from mental illness and addiction. Those problems exist on Cape Cod along with people fleeing domestic violence or derailed by other illness. “Think about it,” Scalise said. “What if some major struggle happened in your life and you had no
Overnights of Hospitality tries to provide that net. It offers a hot meal and a place to sleep, and it connects clients—from their 20s to their 70s—to services that may address the underlying problems that have left them with no place to live.
Scalise said she and others try to establish relationships with clients, or, as she puts it, “Help the homeless reestablish a sense of being a unique, important individual.” To do that, volunteers sleep over in the church halls with the clients.
“Part of the reason I like to sleep over is that it reminds me of how hard it is to function when you’re trying to sleep in an environment where you’re on an air mattress in a fellowship hall.”
Buying the shelter the volunteers provide would cost more than a million dollars, Scalise estimates. But the volunteers gain something harder to put a price tag on.
“Their understanding of what it is to be homeless has changed dramatically because they’re developing relationships,” she said. “It’s with people who just happen to be homeless. It’s not their defining characteristic. As one of the people told me, ‘I’m not really homeless. I’m houseless.’ For the vast majority, it’s a very short sliver of time.”